By Shashank Kishore in Sylhet
New Zealand Women side led by Suzie Bates has been in terrific form and is in pole position to seal semifinal spot in ICC Women's World T20
A title win has eluded New Zealand in three previous attempts, despite making the final twice in the World T20. But two wins in as many matches during this tournament has put it in pole position in Group A, and a win against the Sana Mir-led Pakistan Women side on Thursday (March 27) will all but seal a berth in the semifinals.
Suzie Bates, the New Zealand captain, hinted at a few changes over the next two games to give all members of the squad a taste of the conditions should it make it through to the knockouts. The first name that's likely to figure in discussions is Sophie Devine. Capable of clearing the boundaries at will, she also adds variety to the attack with her seam-up bowling.
Although she was fit and available for selection after recovering from a minor illness, the team management kept her wrapped in cotton wool. "We wanted to make sure her body is 100 percent because she's obviously a crucial player for us moving forwards," said Bates. "She's itching to get out there and hopefully we can keep her up our sleeve at some stage in the tournament."
What should help Pakistan is that it is coming off a rare three-day break after its first game, giving the team enough time to introspect, while the think-tank can rework a few strategies.
"One loss is not the end of the world," said Mir. "We have shown the ability to compete, the batters…the way they came out chasing more than 160 was a very good sign for us. If the bowlers can tighten up, we will be a force to reckon with. These wickets here aren't new to us. We've gained valuable experience over the last year, so it's important to keep faith in the team."
Lack of cricket at home has been a hurdle, but the Pakistan Cricket Board has engaged the team in bilateral tours to England, Ireland and Qatar over the last six months. The increased number of playing days overseas has helped players shape up and be ready for tougher conditions.
New Zealand is on an unprecedented high following an outstanding summer where it blanked the West Indies at home before landing in Bangladesh. On form, it looks like the team to beat, but Pakistan can't be written off. Mir has led the side to some of its most memorable performances till date, which includes a gold medal at the 2010 Asian Games in Guanzhou and a first-ever win in a World T20 match against India two years ago. A win here could top all those.
Pakistan: Nain Abidi, Nida Dar, Javeria Khan, Sana Mir (capt), Bismah Maroof, Batool Fatima (wk), Asmavia Iqbal, Qanita Jalil, Sumaiya Siddiqi, Sadia Yousuf, Nahida Khan, Sania Khan, Sidra Ameen, Marina Iqbal, Anam Amin.
New Zealand squad: Suzie Bates (capt), Sophie Devine, Nicola Browne, Samantha Curtis, Maddie Green, Holly Huddleston, Hayley Jensen, Felicity Leydon-Davis, Sara McGlashan (wk), Frances Mackay, Katey Martin, Morna Nielson, Katie Perkins, Rachel Priest, Georgia Guy.