Pakistan and New Zealand square off in one-day series in Dubai

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Good and ready: New Zealand and Pakistan will battle each other hoping to build momentum for the World Cup.

Pakistan and New Zealand start a five-match one-day series in Dubai on Monday with the focus on building confidence and momentum for next year's World Cup, which is just two months away.

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It promises to be a keenly-fought contest after they ended honours even in both the three-Test series and the two-match Twenty20.

Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul Haq admitted his team can build confidence and momentum.

"This is one of our last chances before the World Cup, to look how we will go into the World Cup so the focus is on that," said Misbah on Saturday.

"Pitches are different here (from Australia and New Zealand where the World Cup is being hosted) but I still think the confidence and the momentum of this series will help us and it will not matter even if we are playing on different pitches here."

Pakistan have recalled experienced batsman Younis Khan after dropping him from the three-match one-day series against Australia which they lost 3-0 in October — also played in the United Arab Emirates. Misbah believes Younis will provide valuable experience.

"His experience will help us," said Misbah, also hinting Pakistan will go with a specialist opening pair instead of using wicket-keeper batsman Sarfraz Ahmed at the top of the order.

"We want to go in with genuine openers and want the first four batsmen settled before going to the World Cup," said Misbah, who praised New Zealand as a dangerous side. 

"New Zealand have adaptability and they have allrounders and good spinners who can win matches for their team," said Misbah.

Pakistan have been missing ace spinner Saeed Ajmal, suspended for an illegal bowling action two months ago and their problems were further compounded when all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez's action was also reported last month.

A report on Hafeez's action is expected next week and if he is suspended, Misbah believes it will hurt his team's balance.

"We were jolted after Ajmal's suspension and if Hafeez is not there then our balance will be affected," admitted Misbah.  

New Zealand's stand-in captain Kane Williamson — Brendon McCullum left after the Tests to prepare for the home series against Sri Lanka — said Pakistan remain a dangerous side even without Ajmal.

"We know it's a big challenge because Pakistan play well here, they have depth and even without Ajmal whichever side they put out is strong," said Williamson.
New Zealand play two Tests and seven one-day internationals against Sri Lanka starting later this month.

"There is so much cricket before the World Cup and this series is the focus but we are conscious of the big event," said Williamson.

All-rounder Corey Anderson will return after missing the second Twenty20 as a precautionary measure after being hit by a bouncer in the first Twenty20 on Thursday, but opener Martin Guptill is still being monitored for a tight hamstring.

The remaining one-day matches will be played in Sharjah (December 12 and 14) and Abu Dhabi (December 17 and 19).

TEAMS (from):
Pakistan: Misbah-ul Haq (capt), Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Asad Shafiq, Bilawal Bhatti, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Irfan, Nasir Jamshed, Sarfraz Ahmed, Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Younis Khan, Zulfiqar Babar. 
     
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (capt), Corey Anderson, Dean Brownlie, Anton Devcich, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Adam Milne, James Neesham, Luke Ronchi, Ross Taylor, Daniel Vettori
     
Umpires: Aleem Dar (PAK) and Joel Wilson (WIS)
Tv umpire: Richard Illingworth (ENG)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (SRI)

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#360view: BCCI right to leave stars out of India's WC squad

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Fading stars: India's Gautham Ghambir (L) and Virender Sehwag are just two of the big names excluded from the 2015 World Cup squad list.

It was a mere formality but a poignant moment nonetheless. India announced the initial 30-member squad for the 2015 World Cup and some big names were missing from the list.

– Top 10 ODI batsmen of all time

– Suspended Saeed Ajmal in Pakistan’s preliminary World Cup squad

Fans world over might struggle to remember the last time Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh played an ODI for India, individually and together, and it seems the national selectors too didn’t want to put any more time and energy into their case.

But it is a significant moment in India cricket nonetheless because it formally cuts the last remaining ties with a glorious era gone by.

These players were the superstars of Indian cricket. They formed the crux of the team that brought glory to the country that was almost unheard of.

Most of them were there when India won Tests in South Africa, Australia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Some of them were part of that vibrant Indian team led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni that mesmerised the world with their fearless cricket at the 2007 World T20.

And all of them were crucial members of the team that lifted the World Cup on that magical April 2 night of 2011 in Mumbai. All that is well and truly part of history now.

And the selectors need to be commended for making the sensible decision of giving out a clear cut message right away rather than including them in the initial squad only to exclude them from the final group.

The players now know for sure they are not part of the mix anymore and can make their peace.

None of the five featured in an ODI in 2014 (Harbhajan hasn’t for nearly three years) and they didn’t do anything worthwhile on the domestic circuit as well. The Indian team has a good set of young players to chose from who are fit, confident and beginning to find success across the world.

Such is the abundance of talent India now have at their disposal that they can dare to think of taking on Australia in the first Test against Australia Down Under without Dhoni. And no one seems to be concerned one bit.

It’s not as if the team management or the general public had forgotten what the stars did for the country. All of them were given multiple chances, across formats, to impress one last time but it simply wasn’t to be.

That quintet did their nation proud for the decade or so they wore the India jersey. But now it’s time to move on.

The legacy that they left behind will be taken forward by the Kohlis, the Rahanes and the Aarons. It’s just the way the game is nowadays.

No hard feelings guys.

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New Zealand square series as Pakistan batsmen fall to ambitious shots

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Spinning success: New Zealand's Anton Devcich claimed 2-16 in his four overs to derail the Pakistan innings on Friday in Dubai.

Pakistan had only themselves to blame as New Zealand squared the two-match Twenty20 International series on Friday with a 17-run victory.

At the Dubai International Stadium, Shahid Afridi and his men bowled well to limit New Zealand to 144 for eight, but then perished for a meagre 127 in 18.5 overs as one batsman after another departed playing rash shots.

– New Zealand’s Kane Williamson expecting a tough task in UAE

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It was all downhill for Pakistan once they lost their hero from the first match, Sarfaraz Ahmed, for one in the first over.

With his straight-forward leftarm orthodox spin, man-of-the-match Anton Devcic (2-16 in four overs) then claimed his second wicket in his second over when Mohammad Hafeez tamely pushed a catch back to him.

Pakistan were soon 24-3 in the fifth over when Haris Sohail felt the pressure of making three runs in nine balls and hoisted Matt Henry to Tom Latham at the square-leg boundary.

Ahmed Shehzad (33 in 36 balls), making a comeback into the team after sustaining a minor skull fracture when struck by a bouncer in the first Test match at Abu Dhabi, tried to hold one end, but he too was dismissed – clean bowled by Daniel Vettori – trying to force the pace.

The Kiwi bowlers – led by paceman James Neesham (3-25) and Kyle Mills (3-26) – then took over and in the company of the spinners, gave away just 56 runs in 11 overs from the fourth to 14th.

Captain Afridi launched a late attack, making a quickfire 28 in 11 balls with three sixes, but it was too little too late for his team. Earlier, put in to bat first after Afridi won the toss for the second consecutive day, New Zealand reached 144 for eight despite a decent opening partnership of 49 between captain Kane Williamson and Devcic.

But once Devcic was clean bowled trying to square cut a straight ballby Mohammad Hafeez in the seventh over, the Kiwi batsmen struggled against the three-pronged spin attack of Pakistan.

They were soon down to 78-4 in the 13th over, with Afridi picking up two wickets with his fast leg-spin, while left-arm orthodox Raza Hassan ended a rather uncomfortable stay of Ross Taylor. Afridi finished with 2-33, including the important wicket of his counterpart Williamson.

The Kiwi captain tried to turn a straight delivery that skidded off the pitch and completely missed the line to be clean bowled for 32 in 31 balls. Afridi’s figures took a beating in his last over when Luke Ronchi smashed him for two massive sixes off successive deliveries in the 16th over.

Ronchi scored 31 runs in 26 balls, and it was his 38-run partnership for the fifth wicket with Tom Latham (26 runs in 26 balls) that gave some respectability to the Kiwi total. Clearly, both the teams were more focused on the upcoming One Day Internationals as the fivematch series assumes huge significance considering the World Cup is just a couple of months away.

That attitude was evident in the way both the captain made the changes in their playing eleven compared to the first match on Thursday night.

Despite winning that match, Pakistan brought in Shehzad and fast bowler Umar Gul in place of Mohammad Irfan and Awais Zia. Just like Shehzad, Gul was also coming off an injury layoff. Shehzad’s was a stunning comeback even before he came out to bat.

He was a livewire in the field, throwing himself and stopping shots that had boundary written all over them. He also took a good catch to help remove the dangerman Ronchi and his quick pick up and throw was the reason Nathan McCullum was run out.

While Pakistan made just two changes, Williamson made so many that he forgot the line-up while speaking to the TV commentator at the start of the match.

With an obvious strategy of giving each and every member of his 15-man squad a chance in the middle, Williamson included Tom Latham, Mills, Vettori and Dean Brownlie who replaced Corey Anderson, Martin Guptill, Adam Milne and Mitchell McClenaghan.

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