NZ's last chance to push for World Test Championship final in Pakistan series

Kane Williamson's side is third behind Australia and India and needs to win both the first game at Bay Oval and then the second from Jan. 3-7 at Hagley Oval in Christchurch to give itself any chance of making the final at Lord's.

New Zealand's chances of sweeping the Test series against Pakistan have been boosted by the return of top batsman and skipper Kane Williamson.   -  AP

New Zealand's late push for a place in next year's International Cricket Council's World Test Championship final will come to a head against an injury-hit Pakistan when their two-Test series begins on Saturday in Mount Maunganui.

Kane Williamson's side is third behind Australia and India and needs to win both the first game at Bay Oval and then the second from Jan. 3-7 at Hagley Oval in Christchurch to give itself any chance of making the final at Lord's.

Williamson, however, was well aware his team would also need other results to go its way, which may account for him attempting to downplay the underlying significance of the series.

 

"I think the context of that (The test championship) is great for the game in general," he told reporters this week. "But our focus ... is to basically start again.

"It's about coming back to the basics and playing what is in front of us rather than getting too carried away with potential things."

New Zealand's chances of sweeping the series have been boosted by the return of top batsman Williamson, who missed the innings and 12-run victory over West Indies in Wellington as he awaited the birth of his first child.

Pakistan's Shadab Khan misses NZ opening Test with thigh injury  

Tim Southee also has added motivation for the first match, with the pace bowling spearhead just four wickets away from joining Richard Hadlee and Daniel Vettori as the third New Zealand bowler to achieve 300 Test wickets.

Others stepping in

Pakistan, however, will be without injured captain Babar Azam, opener Imam-Ul-Haq and all-rounder Shadab Khan and stand-in captain Mohammad Rizwan said while the team would miss the trio, he expected others to take their opportunities.

"We trust them," he said. "And hope they will play well."

Mitchell Santner urged to be more attacking if given Test nod

Rizwan was also not concerned with the heavily grassed wicket block, which could prove advantageous for the home side's strong pace bowling quartet.

"It doesn't matter for the pitch if there is a bit of grass," he said.

"If it's difficult for us, it's difficult for New Zealand."

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