Pakistan exhibit characteristics of a person with dual-personality disorder when they switch between the two shorter formats. Give them 20 overs to play, and they are unstoppable. They can defend low scores, chase tricky targets, go ballistic at the top, and inflict collapses. Ask them to go a little longer, for 50 overs, and all of a sudden, their batsmen are scratching around. Straightforward targets seem like insurmountable mountains. And the batting is more susceptible to collapses than blocks in a game of Jenga. It's almost as if they forget all the elements that enable them to succeed in the shortest format.
How else does one explain this paradox, really? Pakistan are No. 1 T20I side. They are unbeaten over their last nine matches in the format. Just as recently as last week, they blanked New Zealand 3-0 in the T20Is. And then, the ODIs came around. And it took Trent Boult three balls to rip through them and seal their fate.
Returning after the birth of his child, Boult exposed Pakistan's familiar frailties: loose play outside off, flashing away from the body, and playing across the line when the ball swings. Each of these factors would presumably play a decisive role in the World Cup in the swing-friendly environs of England next year. With about seven months left for that, Pakistan need to act on these issues with urgency.
The flip side of Boult's performance, however, was that it tapered over some of New Zealand's own issues. They fell back on Ross Taylor to bail them out. Apart from Taylor, Kane Williamson is the only reassuring presence they have. George Worker is still finding his feet, which puts the onus on Colin Munro, his opening partner, to take additional responsibility. Munro has the flair and confidence, but New Zealand need more runs from him.
As if their existing issues weren't enough, Pakistan now have to deal with increased scrutiny around Mohammad Hafeez's action. That did not deter Sarfraz Ahmed from bowling him for six overs, however, but in any case, Pakistan have enough cushion. It's with the batting that they need to find a way to sustain the effectiveness they've shown in T20Is for longer periods. New Zealand have never lost a bilateral ODI series to Pakistan in the Emirates, and barring a quick remedy to their batting, Pakistan risk suffering the same fate again.
Pakistan LLLWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand WLWLL
In the spotlight
Mohammad Hafeez's action coming under the scanner is an unwelcome headache for Pakistan, but one they need to deal with nevertheless. While it would be an overstatement to say that Taylor's action has soured the series, it certainly drew the ire of the Pakistan captain. Hafeez's action was cleared only as recently as May this year. But he remained under focus, calling out the ICC's procedure for identifying suspect actions, and subsequently escaped punishment for his comments. Hafeez has endured a tumultuous year, spending it in and out of the side. His international career appeared to be winding down after months of being overlooked, before he was thrown a lifeline when he was named in the Test squad for the Australia series. He was then called back to the ODI squad as well, after being left out of the Asia Cup earlier this year. Now, with the fuss around his action, every move of his will be magnified.
Colin Munro has undoubted potential and he has shown that in flashes. But the big hundred has eluded the opening batsman after 37 innings in the format. A big innings from him would reinforce the power New Zealand possess at the top of the order, give the newcomer Worker some time to settle in, and make Williamson and Taylor's job of building the innings through the middle overs more effective by giving them a solid platform to launch from.
Hasan Ali is going through a rough patch, and it seems increasingly likely that Pakistan may soon turn to a replacement. Faheen Ashraf wouldn't be a bad choice if they do choose to do so. And with the circumstances surrounding Hafeez, should be be pulled up for some reason, Faheem gives Pakistan that extra allround option.
Pakistan (probable XI): 1 Imam-ul-Haq, 2 Fakhar Zaman, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Mohammad Hafeez, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt, wk), 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Hasan Ali/Faheem Ashraf, 10 Shaheen Afridi, 11 Junaid Khan
New Zealand won't likely be swayed into making any changes.
New Zealand (probable XI): 1 George Worker, 2 Colin Munro, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Tom Latham (wk), 6 Henry Nicholls, 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Tim Southee, 9 Ish Sodhi, 10 Lockie Ferguson, 11 Trent Boult
Pitch and conditions
Five out of the six ODIs in Abu Dhabi this year have been won by the team batting first. Pakistan barely scraped through in a chase of 258 in the other game. And besides, with the afternoon mercury, most teams would prefer being on the field after the night sets in. Surfaces in the UAE have shown a tendency recently to not favour extremely high scores, so a total of 250 or thereabouts should prove competitive.
Stats and trivia