There was a time in the 90s when South Africa were a scourge for Pakistan. The two teams played 14 ODIs between 1995 and 2000, all resulting in South Africa's favour. It does sound surprising knowing Pakistan’s 90s team is considered to be their greatest ever ODI team: they beat Australia in Australia, India in India but defeating South Africa even at home was a challenge for them. Pakistanis, who picked cricket in that era, considered beating South Africa as the ultimate goal.
Pakistan fans who have been following cricket in the last four to five years would be forgiven for having similar thoughts about New Zealand. Kiwis are on a streak of 11 consecutive victories against Pakistan going back to the series in the UAE in 2014. They won the last two games on that tour to clinch the rubber 3-2 and then twice beat Pakistan 2-0 at home in 2015 and 2016 and 5-0 at the start of this year. They may have lost T20Is in that time but in ODIs, they have looked invincible.
Matches against New Zealand used to be a piece of cake for Pakistan until Pallekele happened. Since the infamous World Cup match in 2011, Pakistan appeared to have played in the bubble of Pallekele every time they turned up against the Kiwis.
Shoaib Akhtar, who bowled a red-hot spell in Sharjah in 2000 to end South Africa’s winning streak, conceded 28 off an over to Ross Taylor in Pallekele. Two overs later, New Zealand took 30 off Abdul Razzaq’s over. These also happen to be the two most expensive overs bowled by Pakistan in the 21st century.
Since that carnage, New Zealand have won 13 out of 15 ODIs against Pakistan and Ross Taylor has scored 713 runs at an average of 101.85.
If Pakistan’s T20 series win by 3-0 last week is anything to go by, they have the momentum on their side and a perfect opportunity to correct the imbalance in ODIs. Their only wins this year have come against Afghanistan (1), Hong Kong (1) and Zimbabwe (5). Against Bangladesh (1), India (2) and New Zealand (5), they have lost eight out of eight ODIs.
“This series is very important for us and we want to take the ODI team in the path of improvement and success,” said Sarfraz Ahmed on the eve of the series. “We will try to display good cricket and it is important keeping in mind the 2019 World Cup.”
“We have to focus solely on this series because after that we have a South Africa tour and a Test series before that. Then we have five ODIs against England and Australia each. So, it is important to make the most.”
Pakistan did win the ICC Champions Trophy last year but since then have failed to achieve anything special in the 50 overs format apart from a double-century by Fakhar Zaman. However, since the series against Zimbabwe, Fakhar has only managed to score 56 runs in five ODI innings at an average of 11.20.
The major concern is his performance on the sluggish pitches of Pakistan and UAE. Surprising as it may sound, he is yet to score a fifty in 23 LOIs he has played in Asia. Pakistan expect Fakhar to provide impetus at the start of the innings as he did with great success in the ICC Champions Trophy, therefore, his form in the upcoming series and World Cup will be crucial.
“We have spoken to the batsmen and have asked them to take time at the wicket, display good cricket and set the tone for the batting line-up,” said Sarfraz.
“Before the world cup we have 18 matches and our aim is to make the most of it, playing good cricket. The momentum that we are carrying into this contest we should try and make it count.”