AUCKLAND   -  Pakistan and New Zealand have stand-in skippers, both spin-bowling all-rounders, as they head into each other for the first T20I of the three-match series in Auckland today (Friday). 

With depleted squads, Pakistan and New Zealand face off for the first T20I at Eden Park in Auckland. Pakistan are without their regular captain Babar Azam who was ruled out of the series with a thumb injury suffered during practice. Stand-in skipper Shadab Khan is also racing against time to be fit for the first game. New Zealand, on the other hand, are without Kane Williamson, who is on paternity leave and strike bowler, Trent Boult. Colin de Grandhomme and Lockie Ferguson are also absent after the two were ruled out of the entire series with injuries. 

The visitors are at No 4 on the ICC Men’s T20I Team Rankings while the hosts are currently languishing at No 6. With the 2021 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup less than a year away, the absence of big players should serve as a chance for both sides to test their bench strength. Pakistan could have Mohammad Rizwan at the top alongside Abdullah Shafique, Mohammad Hafeez, Haider Ali and Sarfaraz Ahmed, who is back in the mix, playing in the middle-order. 

Pakistan played the recent T20Is against Zimbabwe at home with Imad Wasim and Usman Qadir as spinners. Now with Shadab Khan back in the squad, it remains to be seen how they fit the three spinners. New Zealand are expected to open with Tim Seifert and Martin Guptill with Devon Conway, who had a terrific debut series against West Indies and Glenn Phillips, fresh off scoring the fastest T20I century by a Black Caps player, slotting into the top four. 

Pakistan themselves have a good recent record with a whitewash of Zimbabwe at home while New Zealand come off a 2-0 series win over West Indies last month. The last time these sides met in a T20I series was in the UAE in 2018. Pakistan went on to win the series 3-0. Prior to that, in the same year in New Zealand, Pakistan had won the T20I series 2-1. Overall, the side from the sub-continent has 13 wins and eight losses against New Zealand in this format. In New Zealand, though, the hosts have a slight edge with five wins and four losses. 

Pakistan head coach Misbah-ul-Haq said: “Shaheen Shah Afridi and Wahab Riaz are quite experienced now. Haris Rauf and Mohammad Hasnain are growing with every series so they all are getting into the groove. They have the skills, potential, pace and swing - this package can surprise anyone. There is a main responsibility on the shoulders of our batsmen, who will hopefully try their best to deliver against the Kiwis.”

Black Caps selector Gavin Larsen said: “We were thrilled Glenn Phillips and Devon Conway were able to take their opportunities so well in the previous series and we’re keen to give them the chance to back that up against a strong Pakistan T20 outfit.”