New Zealand start their last push to make the World Test championship final on Saturday in the first Test against an injury-hit Pakistan at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui.
The Black Caps are full of confidence coming off a comprehensive 2-0 series win against the West Indies, and need to produce a similar result in the two Pakistan Tests.
India and Australia head New Zealand on the Test championship ladder, but if India continue to struggle and New Zealand sweep the series against an under-strength Pakistan, it could be enough to see the Black Caps at Lord’s for the final in June.
But captain Kane Williamson, who missed the second Test against the West Indies to be with his wife for the birth of their first child, refuses to look at the big picture.
“I think the context of that (Test championship) is great for the game in general, but our focus, as it was in the last couple of Tests, is to basically start again and adapt to the conditions that we’re going to have,” he said.
Pakistan’s preparations were hit this week with Shadab Khan ruled out with a thigh injury to join Babar Azam and Imam-ul-Haq on the sidelines.
Coach Misbah-ul-Haq said he was “confident and optimistic” other players would step up, but the odds are stacked against the tourists.
They rank seventh in the world while New Zealand are equal on points with Australia at the top.
New Zealand present a settled line up with the only question over whether they will play spinner Mitchell Santner or all-rounder in Daryl Mitchell.