The three-match series between Pakistan and New Zealand is perfectly poised at 1-1 as the two teams head to Abu Dhabi for the deciding Test which gets underway on Monday.
The Kiwis claimed a dramatic four-run win in the series opener at Abu Dhabi before Sarfraz Ahmed‘s men stormed back with victory by an innings and 16 runs in Dubai.
With all to play for both teams at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, we look at the key talking points heading into the decider.
KIWIS WITH A RARE SHOT AT HISTORY
Kane Williamson has a shot at emulating Graham Dowling and his men who were the last New Zealand outfit to notch up an away Test series win over Pakistan. That win had come all the way back in 1969.
As such, the Kiwis are well placed to repeat that historic win as they head to Abu Dhabi. New Zealand’s last away Test series win on Asian soil came in 2008 against Bangladesh but a victory over Pakistan in the UAE would be a much bigger achievement to savour for the tourists.
They ran Pakistan extremely close in their last Test series in the UAE which ended in a 1-1 draw and have a real shot at going one better this time around.
SHAHEEN AFRIDI IN LINE TO MAKE TEST DEBUT
Pakistan have been rocked heading into the decider with star seamer Mohammad Abbas all but ruled out of the clash due to a shoulder injury. The 28-year-old has been a revelation with the red-ball since making his international bow last year and came into the series against the Kiwis on the back of picking up a staggering 59 wickets in just 10 Tests.
Abbas was a monster in Pakistan’s 1-0 series win over Australia recently and his absence will be felt by Sarfraz’s team. The seamer could undergo a late fitness test on Monday morning but his hopes of taking the field at Abu Dhabi appear bleak.
With Abbas injured, Pakistan could hand a Test debut to teenage pacer Shaheen Afridi who has been going from strength to strength in the limited-overs formats. The 18-year-old bagged the man-of-the-series award in the preceding ODI series between the two sides and will be raring to make an instant impact at the Test level should he get the nod on Monday.
He is in excellent nick in red-ball cricket too having picked up a seven-wicket haul in Pakistan A’s recent first-class clash with the English Lions in Abu Dhabi.
COLIN DE GRANDHOMME AND BILAL ASIF IN THE SPOTLIGHT
As the two sides ponder their team combinations for the Abu Dhabi decider, two players will definitely be under the scanner following their poor shows in the first two Tests.
For New Zealand, the role of Colin de Grandhomme in the side will need examination following the all-rounder’s dismal showings with the bat so far in the series. The 32-year-old has been fairly tidy with the ball with four wickets in the two Tests but has been poor with the bat.
In four innings so far, Grandhomme has mustered only 17 runs with two ducks to his name. The right-hander’s non-show with the bat really affects the balance of the New Zealand line up and it will be interesting to see if Williamson opts to persist with him for the third game in a row.
On the other hand, Pakistan off-spinner Bilal Asif has largely been under-bowled by Sarfraz in the series with just two wickets to show for from his four innings. The 33-year-old has paled in comparison to leg-spinner Yasir Shah who picked up a record 14-wicket haul in the Dubai Test alone.
Asif will almost certainly be given another outing in Abu Dhabi given Pakistan’s lack of specialist spin options but he will need to really step up with his performances if wants to maintain his place in the Test side in the long run.
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