New Zealand vs Pakistan 1st Test Preview: Rizwan handed toughest gig on captaincy debut as Kiwis aim for WTC final
If New Zealand win both their test matches against Pakistan, they will climb to the second spot in the World Test Championship and will have a high probability of making it to the WTC final at Lord's.
WTC final within New Zealand's grasp
New Zealand are currently placed at the third spot in the World Test Championship 2019-2021 points table with 5 wins and 4 losses from their 9 matches. The team has played 4 series till now, the last of which was against West Indies.
The team has won both their last two test series at home via clean sweep. They are with 300 points and a clean sweep in the series against Pakistan as well will help them climb ahead of India at the second spot in the Championship leaderboard.
India will then need to win at least 4 of their remaining 7 test matches - 3 against Australia and 4 against England to make it to the final, with Australia already a shoo-in for the final.
Babar Azam's injury big blow for Pakistan
Days before the beginning of the T20I series, Babar Azam copped a blow on his thumb during a net session. Scans revealed a fracture and Azam was ruled out of the T20Is.
He was expected to recover in time for the test series but will not be able to feature in the first test match. He is expected to return for the second test match.
Azam is Pakistan's premier batsman and one of the best in the world. He has played every single test match for the team in 2017 and 2019 and had played every test for the team this year as well before he broke his thumb.
Azam averages in excess of 45 from 29 test matches with 2045 runs and 5 centuries. Haris Sohail is likely to take his place in Pakistan's playing XI. Shadab Khan has also been ruled out due to a thigh injury.
Daunting task for stand-in captain Rizwan
This will be the first time that Mohammad Rizwan will be leading the Pakistan side. After having to wait for his turn during Sarfaraz Ahmed's reign, it is now Rizwan's time to shine.
He was named the Player of the Series in the three-test matches against England earlier in the summer and was later appointed the vice-captain. As it turned out, Babar Azam's injury means that with just nine caps to his name, Rizwan will become the least capped captain after Javed Burki was named the Pakistan skipper in the 1960s.
Rizwan scored 161 runs from 4 innings against England in the summer at an average of over 40 and showed his maturity and sensibility while batting with the tail. Rest assured, the team will need all three of his services - batting, wicket-keeping and captaincy - to stand a chance of competing against New Zealand in their home conditions
Pakistan's test regulars return
Pakistan's test regulars Abid Ali, Shan Masood, Haris Sohail, Azhar Ali, Yasir Shah and Mohammad Abbas will be back in action after not being part of the T20Is.
Pakistan do have a solid team and the pieces are beginning to come together for the side over the last couple of years. However, it will be a test of the class and temperament of all these prayers as it won't be a mean task to outplay the Kiwis in their den.
Kane Williamson back after baby's birth
Kane Williamson missed out on the second test match against West Indies owing to paternity leave. He will return to take his place at number 3 at the expense of Will Young.
Tom Latham and Tom Blundell will continue to open the batting for New Zealand. Daryl Mitchell is expected to keep his place as the pace-bowling all-rounder ahead of Mitchell Santner who has been picked in the squad over spinner Ajaz Patel.
Here's the probable playing XI of both teams:
New Zealand - Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Daryl Mitchell, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Trent Boult
Pakistan - Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Fawad Alam, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Rizwan (c & wk), Yasir Shah, Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah
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