Kiwis eye rare final berth

Pakistan skipper Younis faces problem of plenty

 
Severely hit by injuries to the influential trio of Jacob Oram, Jesse Ryder and Daryl Tuffey, Daniel Vettori’s men were dealt another unkind blow after Grant Elliott broke his thumb during their four-wicket win over England on Tuesday.

Elliott, man of the match in that game with figures of four for 31, has not been ruled out yet, but Scott Styris has already flown in as cover, ahead of the second semifinal against Pakistan on Saturday.

Pakistan have been a particular nemesis at the semifinal stage for the Kiwis, though if Vettori and his lads need any inspiration, they need not look beyond the fact that it was Pakistan who were their semifinal victims when they lifted the ICC Knockout Trophy in Nairobi in 2000. Coincidentally, only Styris of this squad played in that tournament.

On paper, and particularly after New Zealand’s injury woes, Pakistan have a distinct advantage. The World T20 champions have played a consistently attractive brand of cricket throughout this competition, and stretched Australia all the way in their final league fixture despite having to defend a modest 206.

While their batting is still a work in progress, heavily reliant on skipper Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf, there is great versatility in the bowling, further bolstered by the impressive return to international cricket after nearly 18 months in the wilderness of Mohammad Asif.

Indeed, if anything, Asif’s heartening performance against Australia has opened up a selectorial debate. Younis will be tempted to retain the right-arm pacer in the playing eleven, but at whose expense is the big question.

The spin duo of Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal has worked wonderfully well in tandem, imposing its authority in the middle overs and picking up crucial wickets as well. On the same track on which New Zealand made 315 against Sri Lanka last week, Pakistan must have Ajmal’s off-spin to complement Afridi’s leg-spin, and if Asif is be persisted with, then it will most likely be at either Rana Naved-ul-Hasan or Umar Gul’s expense. A tough call that.

The depth and penetration in the Pakistani bowling will test New Zealand’s somewhat threadbare batting resources immensely. The loss of Ryder and Oram, both capable of tearing bowling attacks apart at different places on the batting spectrum, can be potentially decisive, because the pressure on Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor immediately multiplies manifold.

The right-handed Taylor has flattered to deceive in this competition; a timely return to form at the Wanderers will be welcomed with open arms by Vettori, who has finally been forced to bat higher up the order – as he should, given his recent record – because of the spate of injuries.

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