For Pakistan, this game cannot come – and go – soon enough. A home Test season of historically miserable proportions will finally draw to a close for the hosts next week, and regardless of the outcome of the second Test in Karachi, that is precisely how it will be viewed. You might imagine the end of this week will allow Pakistan to take stock, assess what went wrong, perhaps even commission one of those reports that never really end up seeing the light of day.
Most likely, though, with just two Tests to play in the next 11 months, they will instead turn their attention to white-ball cricket. By the time the Test tour of Sri Lanka rolls around, they’ll have found some new kid who smashed it around in the PSL or bowled really fast. Shahid Afridi will include him in that ever-expanding list of probables for the Test squad because six months is too long a time to remember what Pakistan’s Test problems actually were.
On flat surfaces like that one, a solitary poor batting session can determine the course of a game. The first Test was shaped by the very first session, where some horrific decision making from Pakistan’s batters gifted New Zealand four early wickets, ensuring Pakistan would never be able to put up the sort of total to intimidate New Zealand. But with Pakistan promising a spicier surface for the second Test, and plenty of grass left on the strip overnight, there are opportunities for fast bowlers to get into the game, posing selection dilemmas and strategic reconsiderations.
While Pakistan see out their season with this tour, for New Zealand, it is merely an hors d’oeuvre. A short white-ball series in India will be followed by a return home for a visit of England, and while conditions there will bear little resemblance to this, they will want to match England’s away series win in Pakistan with one of their own.
Pakistan: DLLLL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: DLLLL
In the spotlight
Pakistan have enough on their plate without needing to worry about Abdullah Shafique, whose explosive start to his Test career solved one half of Pakistan’s opening woes. After a breakthrough first season in international cricket, though, the runs have dried up over this winter, with a hundred on an extremely flat track in Rawalpindi followed up by seven innings without a half-century.
The good news is there doesn’t appear to be a glaring technical flaw – he has got starts in nearly each of those innings; only once in the last seven has he faced fewer than 20 deliveries. There have been several instances of losses of concentration, though, which accounted for both of his dismissals in the first Test. He would dance down the track to spin in each innings, only to be stumped in the first and caught at mid-on the second. Pakistan need him to rediscover the grit that marked him out as a standout opener in the first half of his career, and with no Tests scheduled for Pakistan until July, Shafique will want to sign off on a high.
New Zealand’s own Will Somerville offers the most pertinent example – seven of his 15 Test wickets came on debut against Pakistan. Rehan Ahmed picked up a debut five-for a fortnight earlier, and Will Jacks’ six a couple of Tests before that. Marcus North, Paul Harris and Nathan Hauritz are all members of this unlikely, eclectic list, one Bracewell wouldn’t mind joining to kick off 2023.
Pitch and conditions
A fresh pitch is expected for the final game, with conditions similar to what they were for the first Test. Pakistan want more bounce. Whether they get it in the weak winter sunshine is another question altogether.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Imam-ul-Haq 2 Abdullah Shafique 3 Shan Masood 4 Babar Azam (capt) 5 Saud Shakeel 6 Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk) 7 Salman Ali Agha 8 Hasan Ali 9 Mohammad Wasim 10 Mir Hamza 11 Abrar Ahmed
New Zealand batting coach Luke Ronchi acknowledged the wicket looked different to the one for the first Test, which may alter their bowling combination, too.
New Zealand (probable): 1 Tom Latham, 2 Devon Conway, 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Henry Nicholls, 5 Daryl Mitchell, 6 Tom Blundell (wk), 7 Michael Bracewell 8 Tim Southee, 9 Ish Sodhi 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Ajaz Patel/Matt Henry
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000