Saturday, December 25, 2010

Teams in upheaval evenly matched

December 26, Auckland
Start time 14:00 (01:00 GMT)
(06:00AM Pak)
Pakistan run into another team that is dealing with problems. Compared to the murkiness surrounding Pakistan's cricket - spot-fixing investigations, an inefficient and politically incorrect board, a disappearing wicketkeeper - New Zealand's winless woefulness may seem like a trifle.
Yet, their recent travails in the subcontinent - where they failed to win any of their last 11 one-dayers and three Tests, spread across each of the three World Cup hosting countries - have left their tournament preparations in disarray, with very little time for new coach John Wright to turn things around.
This series - on spongy, seaming tracks and small grounds - against a Pakistan team in its current state, presents New Zealand with less than ideal preparation for the big event, but it gives them a good shot at ending the slump.
Pakistan don't have the luxury of picking and choosing their venues anymore. Security concerns have prevented them from playing at home. This is Pakistan's second visit to New Zealand in a year, a frequency rarely seen from Asian teams.
They begin this tour at the Eden Park in Auckland, the venue that hosted the first ever Twenty20 international, almost six years ago. A lot has changed since that hit-and-giggle encounter, in which Australia and New Zealand sported retro costumes and outmoded facial hair. Three World Twenty20s have come and gone since, with Pakistan making the semi-finals on each occasion and winning the tournament once. This is the format they have always threatened to make their own; so despite their current four-match losing streak and all the other distractions, they come into the series with a dangerous reputation.

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