Sport » Cricket

Updated: October 2, 2009 19:29 IST

High-flying Kiwis take on Pakistan

S. Dinakar
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New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori
AP New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori

Given the nature of the surface at the Wanderers, the second ICC Champions Trophy semifinal between Pakistan and New Zealand bristles with possibilities.

The ball has seamed and bounced at this venue. In a format that encourages batsmen and stroke-play, the bowlers have largely called the shots.

Pakistan will start Saturday's face-off as favourite. New Zealand too will fancy its chances on the kind of pitch that suits its style of play.

The side that wins the toss and exploits the seamer-friendly conditions early on has an advantage. The ball has tended to settle down more in the second half of the contest.

Injury Woes

New Zealand has yet another injury concern ahead of a big game. Key all-rounder Grant Elliott has picked up a thumb injury and Scott Styris is being flown in as cover.

Despite losing important players in Jesse Ryder (groin), Jacob Oram (hamstring) and Darryl Tuffey (broken hand), the Kiwis have kicked on in the tournament. "The injuries have strengthened our resolve," said coach Andy Moles.

The Kiwis have a limited pool of talent but are adept in planning and execution; they can make the most of their ability. The side has already exceeded expectations here.

Daniel Vettori's men can surprise the opposition. Brendon McCullum's blazing onslaught in the early overs on a rather spiteful pitch hustled England.

There is some merit in going for broke with horizontal bat shots on such surfaces. When McCullum slashed, he did so hard and the ball sailed over the cordon or flew well over point. The combative Martin Guptill was also positive at the top of the order.

The moment New Zealand went on the defensive, the English bowlers got on top; New Zealand eventually closed out the match. Pushing and prodding might not help at the Wanderers; one of the deliveries might have your number on it.

New Zealand has a wobbly batting order - it would expect the talented Ross Taylor to fire on a huge occasion - but has a competent pace attack. This was acknowledged by Pakistan captain Younus Khan.

Shane Bond will be a distinct threat. The Kiwi hopes would hinge on the kind of support Bond receives.

Vettori's teasing left-arm spin and his tenacious batting could also have a large bearing on the match. The affable cricketer has led the side admirably. The bowling changes have been slick, and the field positioning precise.

If Elliott passes the fitness test, the Kiwis are expected to make only one change in the eleven that defeated England. Aaron Redmond might replace Gareth Hopkins. Redmond could open with McCullum, with Guptill taking the No. 3 slot.

Formidable Pace Attack

The Kiwi batsmen will be up against the varied and potent Pakistan attack. Mohammed Aamer's left-armer's angle laced with pace and bounce, Umar Gul's speed, swing and cut and Rana Naved's thrust and reverse swing make Pakistan's pace bowling a compelling one.

Pakistan will be hard pressed to include comeback man Mohammad Asif - he impressed against Australia with his late movement – in the eleven.

Even on the Wanderers track, Pakistan could play two spinners in leg-spinner Shahid Afridi and offie Saeed Ajmal. Younus said this spin combination had enhanced Pakistan's attack.

Younus and senior batsman Mohammad Yousuf are technically best equipped to pull their weight with the willow on a seamer-friendly surface. But then, there is no dearth of talent in the side. In its last game at the Wanderers, the young Umar Akmal revelled in a pressure situation. And the smooth-stroking Shoaib Malik is in fine form. Then, there is the Afridi factor.

It remains to be seen whether Pakistan plays the experienced Misbah-ul-Haq for Imran Nazir. This could lead to a change in the opening combination.

The teams: Pakistan (from): Younus Khan (captain), K. Akmal, I. Nazir, S. Malik, M. Yousuf, U. Akmal, S. Afridi, Rana Naved, S. Ajmal, U. Gul, M. Aamer, M. Asif, Misbah-ul-Haq, F. Alam, I. Anjum.

New Zealand (from): D. Vettori (captain), B. McCullum, A. Redmond, M. Guptill, R. Taylor, N. Broom, G. Elliott, J. Franklin, K. Mills, I. Butler, S. Bond, S. Styris, B. Diamanti, J. Patel, Iain O' Brien, G. Hopkins.

Match starts at 6 pm IST.

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