Pakistan-New Zealand series is only shy of needed attention

Despite a steady stream of bad news surrounding the Black Caps' tour of the UAE, the teams have served up a feast for cricket fans, writes Osman Samiuddin
Dean Brownlie, right, of New Zealand bats during the fourth one-day international match against Pakistan at Sheikh Zayed Stadium on December 17, 2014 in Abu Dhabi. Francois Nel / Getty Images
Dean Brownlie, right, of New Zealand bats during the fourth one-day international match against Pakistan at Sheikh Zayed Stadium on December 17, 2014 in Abu Dhabi. Francois Nel / Getty Images

The guess is that even if this series had not occurred among the moping, dark shadows of tragedy, it would still have escaped most people’s radar.

That is reflective of the small world of cricket shrinking ever further. If it is not some permutation of Australia, India and England, it seems cricket is barely worth acknowledging or following any more.

But with the death of Phillip Hughes last month and the worst terrorist attack in Pakistan’s history a day before the fourth ODI, the series has felt increasingly like a footnote to the cruelty of life.

That is a shame because the entire tour has been whatever serves as the opposite analogy of watching paint dry – it has been so much of what modern cricket should be.

Above all, it has been competitive, so much so that on the cusp of the 10th and final match, both sides have won four, with one draw.

It has also hurled along on the exploits of as colourful a spectrum of player as is imaginable: Younis Khan, Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor, Yasir Shah, Rahat Ali, Mark Craig, Tom Latham, Mohammed Irfan, Kane Williamson, Shahid Afridi, Sarfraz Ahmed, Haris Sohail, Adam Milne.

That list – across Tests and limited-overs games – offers as great a blend of orthodoxy and unorthodoxy as you could ask for – old with youth, smarts with instinct, opposite cultures.

Finally, on Friday, a decider. At one level, a decider feels unfair.

With the tally one apiece in the Twenty20s, one apiece in the Tests and 2-2 in the ODIs, both sides deserve to walk out of this tour and say they did not lose it. A tie would be fitting.

The gut says that New Zealand might just edge it, and this is not because Pakistan might still be deflated from the events of Tuesday, or that New Zealand have some momentum in levelling the series after coming from behind yet again on Wednesday.

More accurately, it is the moment for a side on the rise that steers that call.

Scott Styris, the former Kiwi all-rounder, thinks this World Cup may be a year too early for this New Zealand team, but their credentials cannot be dismissed so easily.

For instance, they have resources in pace to savour. They can afford to rest Tim Southee and Trent Boult from this series and still compete.

They can also afford to – as Williamson did on Wednesday – play down the electric potential of Milne.

Their top order could do with similar depth, but in familiar conditions they should thrive.

Pakistan are lucky to be able to even put out an XI. Each new day seems to bring a new enforced absence.

Just from the first-choice players who are missing from this match, cricket could have an 11th, competitive, full member.

They have played this ODI series with their least dynamic batting order and an inherently unstable XI. Yet they stand equal, having got by purely on their ability to be Pakistan – that is, their ability to win contrarily, as if to be deliberately obtuse about the point.

More prosaically, it is worth glancing at Pakistan’s record in deciding games of one-day series in recent years. Since 2003, in the final match of a series tied at 1-1 or 2-2, Pakistan have lost 11 of 12, with their only win against Zimbabwe in 2013.

That is a remarkable and telling record of their one-day fortunes and, for now, an ominous portent.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 19, 2014 04:00 AM

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