Soon after Pakistan wrapped up a T20I series sweep over hapless Australia, Shoaib Malik took to Twitter to remind the critics about the splendid run his team have had in the format. Once New Zealand were seen off 3-0, Mohammad Hafeez carried forward the baton on the same platform. The frustration of being questioned constantly was, perhaps, understandable. Pakistan were dumped out of the Asia Cup, where they lost to India twice before the knockout punch came from Bangladesh, and then failed to force a win against Australia after being on top.
Pakistan now have a record 11 consecutive T20I series wins but when they take on New Zealand in the three-match ODI series, it's going to matter very little. With their eyes firmly set on gaining momentum and polishing off the rough edges ahead of the all-important World Cup next year, it's crucial they find a way to translate their T20 form into success in ODI cricket. What's crucial as well is that Pakistan don't let the Asia Cup disappointment get overshadowed by the resurgence in the shortest format. During the Asia Cup, after Pakistan lost to India for the second time, coach Mickey Arthur conceded the team is having a confidence crisis. "There is fear of failure in the dressing room. There is a bit reality check of where we are as a cricket team," he had said.
A reality check eight months ahead of the World Cup might serve as a blessing in disguise. It gives Pakistan a chance to identify key areas and had it come closer to the tournament, it would have left them with little options. Pakistan need to identify their third seamer, especially with Mohammad Amir going off the boil. Hasan Ali and the impressive Shaheen Afridi will start and the think-tank will once again bank on Junaid Khan to produce the goods. Another thing that'll worry Sarfraz Ahmed and Co. will be the form of Fakhar Zaman. The opener averages just 20.40 in the UAE since making his debut and has struggled to get going in the limited-overs format of late. In his last three ODIs, he's scored just one run and the management will be well aware that an in-form Zaman is crucial for Pakistan's chances.
New Zealand too come into the series with their own set of challenges. The cricketing break left them a touch rusty in the preceding T20I series but they left the series with more questions than the momentum they would have hoped to gain. Pakistan's spinners managed to strangle the New Zealand middle order with ease and they need to find some quick fixes to this issue. But they'll be buoyed by the return of Tom Latham, especially after the way Glenn Phillips struggled in the T20s. Trent Boult will join forces with Tim Southee to form a potent bowling attack while a lot will depend on how the likes of Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls and others perform.