Dubai: Paceman Umar Gul's return boosts former world champions Pakistan against an under-strength New Zealand in the two Twenty20 internationals starting in Dubai on Thursday.
The 23-year-old returns from a knee problem which kept him away from international cricket since the fifth edition of the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh in April this year. His inclusion will help Pakistan overcome the absence of ace off-spinner Saeed Ajmal who is suspended from international cricket after his bowling action was found illegal in September this year.
Gul is the second highest wicket-taker in the shortest format of the game with 80 in 56 games, five behind Ajmal's 85. He famously took 5-6 in a World Twenty20 group match against New Zealand at The Oval when Pakistan won the title in 2009.
Pakistan will hope their pace attack, which also includes the lanky 7 feet, one inch (2.1m) Mohammad Irfan supplement the bowling attack which has spinners in Raza Hasan and Shahid Afridi.
Pakistan had a miserable World Twenty20 in Bangladesh where they failed to reach the last four for the first time in five editions of the tournament. That prompted captain Mohammad Hafeez to step down, giving the responsibility to all-rounder Afridi for a second stint. But Afridi's return as captain wasn't auspicious as Pakistan lost the only Twenty20 against Australia in Dubai in October by six wickets.
Afridi said Pakistan will not underestimate New Zealand who are without their dashing skipper Brendon McCullum who, along with pacemen Tim Southee and Trent Boult, have returned to New Zealand to prepare for the upcoming home series against Sri Lanka. "New Zealand is a dangerous limited over side and we will not underestimate them," said Afridi.
"We have to be at out best to beat them." McCullum smashed a brilliant 202 to help New Zealand win the third and final Test in Sharjah on Sunday, levelling the three-match Test series 1-1. Kane Williamson, who has led New Zealand in three one-day matches and two Twenty20s will lead New Zealand while Ross Taylor, fast bowler Adam Milne and batting all-rounder Anton Devcich return to the squad.
Pacemen Mitchell McClenaghan and Kyle Mills and spinner Nathan McCullum will also boost New Zealand. Pakistan have beaten New Zealand in six of their nine Twenty20s with three losses. After the second Twentyw20, also in Dubai on Friday, both teams will play five one-day internationals.
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (captain), Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Awais Zia, Anwar Ali, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Irfan, Raza Hasan, Saad Nasim, Sarfraz Ahmed, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz.
New Zealand: Kane Williamson (captain), Corey Anderson, Dean Brownlie, Anton Devcich, Martin Guptill, Matt Henry, Tom Latham, Mitchell McClenaghan, Nathan McCullum, Kyle Mills, Adam Milne, James Neesham, Luke Ronchi, Ross Taylor, Daniel Vettori
Umpires: Ahsan Raza (PAK) and Ahmed Shahab (PAK)
Tv umpire: Shozab Raza (PAK)
Match referee: Roshan Mahnama (SRI)
Photos: Shraddha Kapoor, Kim Sharma at 'Haseena Parkar' screening
Mumbai to Goa train: First look at the glass-top Vistadome coach
Shuttler Ashwini Ponnappa keeps it short and sexy on social media
Photos: Narendra Modi, others at Marshal Arjan Singh's funeral
Photos: Sussanne Khan and Nimrat Kaur spotted at a spa in Juhu