There were intense nerves when these two sides last met in an ODI match. Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez lifted Pakistan to 290 on a slippery Auckland deck, before a lethal Guptill onslaught saw New Zealand over the line. Expect a similar thrill to repeat itself down under. Pakistan, having routed some of the biggest sides in international cricket, are eager to secure a triumph on foreign soil. New Zealand, on the other hand, are determined to preserve their home advantage, and give Pakistan a hostile welcome. Three dismissals hold the key to Pakistan’s bowling success. First comes Martin Guptill. In his last eighteen ODI appearances, Guptill has managed 697 runs at a strike rate of 99.5. He crossed the hundred-mark twice, hammering half centuries against Australia and India. His straight-bat master class was in ample show against South Africain Hamilton, backed by a strong wrist and brute force. Dismissing the opener would require pace off the ball. Both Imad and Shadab can generate enough flight to deny the opener extra room to free his arms. Late spin from a forward-defensive length will be instrumental in perfecting an LBW. Right-handed Kane Williamson is most likely to hold New Zealand’s innings together after an early collapse. His terrific year with the bat continues, averaging 42.9, and registering gutsy half-centuries against South Africa and India. The downside to Williamson’s technique is his early inclination to drive. Mohammad Amir’s probing off-stump line compels batsmen on the front foot, inviting enough swing to capture the outside edge, and send Williamson packing. Pakistan’s third target is Ross Taylor, a ballistic middle-order striker. He usually appears during the difficult course of New Zealand’s innings, where the sole objective is to penetrate the field and maximise run-scoring. Taylor’s superb hand-eye coordination makes him a force against conventional spin, as well as death-over pace. The key to his demise lies in subtle variations. James Anderson and Stuart Broad have dismissed Taylor a number of times. Both of them boast subtle shifts in pace. Hasan Ali is another such bowler with a diverse range of yorkers and well-disguised slower balls, to test Taylor’s belligerence at the death. A timely dismissal could save Pakistan 30-40 crucial runs. Westpac Stadium, the venue for the opening game, is a tricky wicket to bat on. In the past eight games, sides batting first have averaged 276, whilst the side batting second averages is just 205. Thus, the onus is on Pakistan’s opening pair Fakhar Zaman and Azhar Ali, to leverage field restrictions and build momentum. Fakhar’s strong bottom-hand enables him to stand deep in the crease, and punish anything short through the covers. A defensive field would constitute Trent Boult’s opening spell, making it opportune for Fakhar to charge down the track, and lift deliveries over the inner circle. Azhar’s calculated defence from the other end, shall be vital in offsetting any early movement from the pacer. Sound selection of gaps and a vigilant approach to bowling will determine the victor Pakistan’s middle-over success would depend heavily on gap selection. Adam Milne, the right arm quick, attempts to dry up boundaries with a tight stump-to-stump approach. Babar Azam must reciprocate Virat Kohli’s technique against Milne to muster boundaries. Kohli demonstrated sound wristwork in the recent home series, meeting deliveries half-way and whipping them through extra cover and deep mid-wicket gaps. Milne went for 147 runs in that series. Babar has an even better chance on Christchurch’s fast deck. The spinner to watch out for is Mitchell Santner. The 25-year old models the left-arm action of Daniel Vettori, allowing the ball to drift in the air, and hold its line on impact. Imad Wasim and Shoaib Malik must employ quick foot movement to beat Santner in the flight, and deflect any signs of subtle turn. Malik’s delicate touches, along with Imad’s death-over striking, would be a crucial combination against stealthy Santner. Ultimately, sound selection of gaps and a vigilant approach to bowling would determine the fate of the winning side. Pakistan’s victorious run in the past few months was inspired by early wickets, and clinical batting finishes. New Zealand should be mindful of those strengths, as well as its critical home advantage. A scintillating contest between bat and ball awaits the audience this January. The writer is a student of Public Policy at NUST, and author of the book on post-modern poetry And the Candles Blew Published in Daily Times, December 17th 2017.