Here is a sobering statistic. It has been nearly 32 years since New Zealand last beat Pakistan in a Test series. Thirty-two years. For perspective, the last time they beat Pakistan in a Test series was Wasim Akram’s debut series.
Good New Zealand, wretched New Zealand, Richard Hadlee’s New Zealand, Martin Crowe’s New Zealand, Stephen Fleming-era New Zealand, Brendon McCullum’s New Zealand, in New Zealand, in Pakistan, in the UAE — none of them, anywhere have beaten Pakistan in a Test series.
The only other side they have not won a series against in that time is South Africa, whom they first played late in 1994 and it is probably not worth going into that horror show of record right now (just two wins in 25 Tests, nine out of 10 series lost).
On paper then, this is probably not the best time to attempt a righting of this anomaly. McCullum has gone and it feels like that brief era is conclusively over. They have lost three of their last four series, the only win coming in Zimbabwe. In South Africa and India they were comprehensively outplayed.
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Pakistan, on the other hand, are ascendant. They have not lost any of their last seven series, winning five of them. They were the top-ranked side for a brief period recently and begin on Thursday in second place.
Yet this series — and maybe it is time we began referring to these two-Test quickies as episodes rather than series — is not as straightforward. For one, New Zealand will be mighty relieved to be playing at home again.
South Africa’s win in Australia aside, the order and form of world cricket has never been easier to decipher: most teams are homebodies, the gap between their performances abroad and at home never greater.
Non-Asian sides come to Asia and get pummeled; Asian sides go to non-Asian countries and have the favour reciprocated.
Pakistan’s bowling attack, which is equipped to do well pretty much wherever it goes, in theory, will keep them in play during the series. But it will be New Zealand’s bowlers who will be happiest to be back home.
They did not perform badly in India — the batting was the issue there — but the nature of surfaces meant they necessarily had it accented towards spin. That is not, whatever the potential of Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner, the default setting of the best New Zealand attacks.
And even though surfaces in New Zealand are no longer as given to pace and swing as they used to be, switching back to a pace-heavy attack will come as some comfort.
They could do with a fully fit and functioning Tim Southee. The last couple of seasons have seen a dimming of his impact — injuries have not helped but 14 wickets from six Tests (at over 46) this year is a particularly poor haul.
In front of him, Trent Boult, Neil Wagner, and Matt Henry will be an established bowling side but one that has, just lately, lost the sheen it acquired in England over the summer.
Pakistan’s batsmen could have got away with one collapse against the West Indies. But three? Not so easily. Two of them resulted in the chastening defeat in Sharjah.
One perspective could be that the batting was simply complacent, that scores of 123, 281 and 208 in three Tests were the result of carelessness and, to a degree, a lack of motivation. It was a low-key series and, against a willing but limited attack, many of the dismissals were entirely self-inflicted.
New Zealand might choose to look at it another way, however. In those collapses, they might see age-old tendencies in all Pakistan batting sides to implode when it appears least likely, but regularly enough for it to be a trait.
In any case, Pakistan have not been able to play a single, competitive game so far in New Zealand, despite being there for over 10 days. Their sole warm-up match was abandoned without a ball being bowled.
Further, Pakistan’s players are a little unnerved by the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that hit the South Island of the country on Monday. The first Test is in Christchurch, which is only 110 miles from the epicentre.
And so, even amid their own transition, now may be as good a moment as any for New Zealand to attempt to break the jinx.
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