Pakistan after dominating the first Test, lost the plot in a way only they could to see the tourists take a 1-0 lead with a slender four-run win. Then, Sarfaraz and Co. came back roaring in the series with a thumping victory in Dubai with Yasir Shah running amok, registering his best figures in Test cricket.
The home side will hope to emulate the performance in the third Test but will be without the services of Mohammad Abbas who is out due to a shoulder injury. While Abbas didn’t take too many wickets, his control is something that Pakistan is likely to miss. The teenage sensation - Shaheen Afridi - looks primed for a debut and will want to carry his form in the limited-overs into the longest format of the game.
Afridi was the Man of the Series in last month's one-day series against the Kiwis where he picked up back-to-back four-wicket hauls and is looking forward to play his maiden Test.
“If I get a chance I will do my best. I always had belief in my ability and in my hard work although I didn't expect my chance will come in Tests so early,” he said to AFP.
There is no real reason for Pakistan to make any other change to their playing XI though they will want their openers to get back among the runs. Both Imam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Hafeez haven’t got going at all and it has put pressure on the middle order. The likes of Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail and Babar Azam have shown good form and bailed them out in the second fixture between the two sides but skipper Sarfraz Ahmed will not want to rely too heavily on few individuals and look to lead from the front.
The bowling for Pakistan holds its shape well with Yasir leading the pack along with Hasan Ali. The 32-year-old leg-spinner has 195 wickets in 32 Tests and needs just five more to become the quickest bowler to reach 200 Test wickets.
Yasir, in fact, can take it anytime in the next three Tests as former Australian, Clarrie Grimmett, who was also a leg-spinner - took his 200th wicket in his 36th Test against South Africa in 1936.
Bilal Asif hasn’t had the impact that he would have liked to but it might too early to drop him from the side.
New Zealand on the other hand, will want to brush off the heavy defeat in Dubai. They were shot out for 90 in the first innings and never really had a chance to come back in the game. They showed good fight in the second stint with the bat and skipper Kane Williamson will hope that they can build on that going into the final Test.
“We’re really excited to be involved in a decider here,” said Williamson. "We know how tough it is to come over to the UAE to play Pakistan, a very strong side that know these conditions well.
“It’s a really exciting prospect and the guys are looking forward to it.”
Fifties for Tom Latham, Ross Taylor and Henry Nicholls would have boosted the confidence of the team management but they will want to click together as a batting unit. How they counter the threat from Yasir will be a deciding factor in the final Test.
A lot will also depend on how the two spinners – Ish Sodhi and Ajaz Patel bowl for New Zealand. While the former has flatted to deceive, the later had a memorable Test debut in the first encounter – winning the Man of the Match – but hasn’t lived up to the expectations post the feat.
The trip to Dubai was an unpleasant one for the Kiwis and they will hope the return to Abu Dhabi, where they won the first Test and find their mojo to get the elusive series win in UAE.
Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Imam-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Saad Ali, Yasir Shah, Bilal Asif, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi, Faheem Ashraf, Mir Hamza.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Ajaz Patel, Jeet Raval, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner, BJ Watling, William Somerville.
First Published: December 2, 2018, 11:28 AM IST