ABU DHABI - After completing an emphatic whitewash against Australia, Pakistan have further consolidated their position at top of the ICC rankings. Pakistan are now set to host New Zealand for a full tour with the T20 leg starting October 31.

Pakistan are firing all cylinders and will be entering the series on the back of ten consecutive series win and will be looking to carry on the momentum. The selectors have named an unchanged squad from the last series but they will be wary of the threat the blackcaps posses both with the bat and the ball. Since Sarfraz Ahmed took over the captaincy in 2016, Pakistan have won 26 and lost just 4.

Fakhar Zaman will hold the key for Pakistan at the top. The dauntless opener looked a bit off colour against the Aussies but will be hoping to make amends for it against the Kiwis. He must get some confidence from the innings he played back in January in New Zealand. He scored 50 and 46 in the second and third T20 to set up big totals for his team.

His opening partner, Babar Azam has been in the supreme form off late. The elegant right-hander has jumped to the top of the rankings in T20’s overtaking Aaron Finch. He looked the most comfortable on the crease from both sides in the recently concluded series. He will have the support of experienced Muhammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.

The late middle order has been an area of concern for Pakistan. The all-rounders Faheem, Shadab and Imad have not been able to capitalize on the starts given by the top order. The team management will be looking to rectify that in the upcoming series. On the other hand, New Zealand will be hoping that if they can get the top order early they have a great chance of toppling the hosts.

Pakistani bowling was quintessential in the recent series against Australia. The bowlers not only kept the scoring rate down but also picked up wickets. Imad Wasim was impressive in his return to international cricket. He won back to back Player of the Match awards and left the Australian batting line bamboozled.

His presence in the team gives Sarfraz another attacking option with spin along with Shadab Khan who holds the second position in the current bowling rankings for T20’s. It is worth mentioning that since 2016 Pakistan’s bowlers have just gone at an economy rate of 6.5 in the Power Play.

After a disastrous Asia Cup, Hassan Ali seemed to have found his mojo. He looked quite nippy and got the missing zip back. Young Shaheen Afridi and Usman Shinwari will complete the pace attack. Waqas Maqsood, the left arm pacer was the only one not to feature in the series against Australia. He was impressive against the New Zealand-A and will be hoping to make his debut.

Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed said his side were already focused on the New Zealand series even before their engagement with Australia was over. It helped they had wrapped that up with a match still to play. “Before the match, we were talking about momentum,” Sarfraz said late on Sunday night, after his side set the seal on a 3-0 series win.

“This match was very important for the next series [against New Zealand] as well. We said to the players it was very important we had the momentum with us,” he said and added: “My players are very good and know how to handle situations. We have a good bowling line up and good batting line up. Babar Azam has performed really well for the past two of years. The way M Hafeez, Fakhar Zaman, Shoaib Malik, and all are performing and contributing, it makes my job very easy as a captain.”

Unlike their neighbours, New Zealand batting might look weak on paper but they have players who can adapt quickly to the conditions. Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor will be crucial in the middle order as both play spin pretty well. The dynamic duo of Colin Munro and Glenn Phillips will try to set the tone up front with the bat. It will be interesting to see how Phillips, Taylor and Colin de Grandhomme handle their CPL teammate Imad Wasim.

Leg-spinners are all the rage these days, and in Sodhi, New Zealand have a very good one. He’ll have greater responsibility in the attack, in the absence of Santner and Boult, and if the visitors are to trouble the Pakistan batsmen, he will have to lead the charge. He returned a fine 2/11 against UAE recently, and will be hoping for more of that.

Sarfraz’s men will be looking to make it eleventh T20I series win in a row while New Zealand must take confidence from their previous outing in UAE where they managed to draw the series against Pakistan.

SQUADS:

PAKISTAN: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt, wk), Shaheen Shah Afridi, Asif Ali, Hassan Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Babar Azam, Sahibzada Farhan, Mohammad Hafeez, Shadab Khan, Shoaib Malik, Waqas Maqsood, Usman Khan Shinwari, Hussain Talat, Imad Wasim, Fakhar Zaman.

NEW ZEALAND: Kane Williamson (capt), Corey Anderson, Mark Chapman, Colin de Grandhomme, Lockie Ferguson, Adam Milne, Colin Munro, Glenn Phillips (wk), Seth Rance, Tim Seifert, Ish Sodhi, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor.