Wellington: New Zealand face Pakistan in a T20 international at Auckland’s Eden Park on Sunday to launch a series set to be overshadowed by corruption claims swirling around the visiting team.
Pakistan boasts the better form going into the series – which features three Twenty20 matches, two Tests and six one-dayers – after drawing two Tests and narrowly losing a one-day series 2-3 against South Africa.
New Zealand, meanwhile, are aiming to rebuild under new coach John Wright after losing their last 11 one-day matches – including series whitewashes against Bangladesh and India.
But the match-fixing allegations against Pakistan trio Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer – who are all suspended and not on the New Zealand tour – is likely divert attention from the on-field rivalry.
British tabloid the ‘News of the World’ claimed earlier this year that several Pakistani players, including the suspended trio, were paid to take instructions from a bookmaker during a Test against England at Lord’s last August.
The ICC will hold a hearing into the allegations in Qatar from January 6-11, coinciding with the first Test between New Zealand and Pakistan in Hamilton, which runs from January 7-11.
New Zealand Cricket chief Justin Vaughan admitted in September he was concerned about how New Zealand fans would view the Pakistan team and the level of interest in a contest where one side was under a corruption cloud.
The Black Caps’ dismal recent performances could also affect crowd numbers, although there will be interest in seeing whether former India coach Wright can turn around the team’s fortunes in time for the World Cup in February.
New Zealand Cricket’s commercial manager Peter Dwan said last week he remained “reasonably optimistic” the series would ignite public interest, despite the corruption allegations.
“We can’t change what is happening (with the match-fixing claims),” he told the New Zealand Herald.
“All we can do is go to the market with a product we think is very compelling – a highly entertaining series of T20, then a good Test series followed by ODIs of our national team against very good sportsmen who are successful on the pitch.”
New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori has been rested from the Twenty20 matches due to a bad back and wicketkeeper-batman Brendon McCullum is also expected to sit them out because of a similar problem.