The Black Caps will be looking to register their first win under the new coaching regime of Gary Stead when they play the first ODI against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi tonight (12am NZT). Returning to a more preferred format, they will be keen to show that they were not deserving of a 3-0 scoreline in the T20s. Having pushed Pakistan very closely in the first two matches of the T20 series, they will back themselves to get a win tonight.
Pakistan are the favourites on BetFair, paying $1.64 to New Zealand’s $2.54. This reflects a large degree of home advantage, because Pakistan have lost the last 11 ODIs in a row to New Zealand, and are ranked 5th on the ODI table compared to New Zealand’s 3rd. It may also reflect some of Pakistan’s red-hot T20 form, although New Zealand would back themselves to win any 50-over contest against a side they have beaten the last 11 times.
The Black Caps will be frustrated that there are some injuries, because they will force some difficult selection decisions. Martin Guptill will not participate in the ODI series on account of still being injured. Neither will Corey Anderson play any further role in the tour on account of a heel injury, which means that Colin de Grandhomme is all but guaranteed a spot in the ODI middle order. Todd Astle will miss this ODI because of knee irritation, which opens a spot at No. 8.
However, the core of the first-choice Black Caps side will be present. Indeed, new Black Caps coach Gary Stead is spoilt for choice in some areas.
For one thing, most of the top order is nailed-on in the form of captain Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham. The first two are arguably New Zealand’s two finest ODI batsmen ever and Latham, although he might be the junior partner here, averages 42 from his last 20 ODI innings. Ross Taylor averages 62 from his last 50 ODI innings and is essentially now Martin Crowe reincarnate.
Colin Munro, who was very good in the T20 series with a 58 and a 44, will probably be continued with as the white-ball opener despite his lack of success there in the ODI setup. The plan is for him to replicate what Brendon McCullum used to offer and his T20 feats show that he is capable of it. Henry Nicholls has probably done enough to hang on to the No. 6 spot, with Colin de Grandhomme at 7.
The difficult choice comes when it comes to replacing Guptill. George Worker is the favourite, having opened the batting in both 4-day and 50-over formats in the recent New Zealand A tour matches in the UAE. A less likely option is a reshuffle that moves Latham back to opener and brings Mark Chapman or BJ Watling into the middle order, and even less likely (but still possible) is going for two hitters, England-style, and partnering Munro with Glenn Phillips at the top.
There is plenty of choice in the fast bowling stocks as well. Trent Boult returns from paternity leave, which means that Williamson can count on ten overs from New Zealand’s premiere bowler. The other opening bowler will be either the incumbent Tim Southee, who has been poor in ODIs in recent years, or Matt Henry, who was excellent over the winter in England country cricket.
The third seamer, if one is chosen, could be the other one of the two mentioned just now, or the ever-improving Lockie Ferguson, or even Adam Milne, who was arguably the first-choice third seamer at the time of the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Then again, there might not be a third seamer if the Black Caps decide to go with two spinners and to get 10 overs out of de Grandhomme, Munro and Williamson.
In any case, Stead will be forced to leave at least one excellent seam bowler out of the starting XI.
The Black Caps might play only the one spinner, but will probably play two on account of the slowness of the UAE wickets. The first choice is Ish Sodhi, who has become much more consistent with the white ball recently and who is the incumbent, but we are also likely to see Ajaz Patel feature.
New Zealand (probable):
1. George Worker
2. Colin Munro
3. Kane Williamson (c)
4. Ross Taylor
5. Tom Latham (wk)
6. Henry Nicholls
7. Colin de Grandhomme
8. Matt Henry
9. Ish Sodhi
10. Ajaz Patel
11. Trent Boult
Dan McGlashan is the man with his finger on the statistical pulse of New Zealand. His magnum opus, Understanding New Zealand, is the complete demographic analysis of the Kiwi people.