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Focus on World Cup as Pakistan-New Zealand ODI series commences

DUBAI: With the ICC Cricket World Cup just two months away, Pakistan captain Misbah-ul Haq believed his team can carry on the momentum and confidence of winning the five-match one-day series starting in Dubai on Monday into the mega event.

Pakistan, playing without their key spinner Saeed Ajmal – suspended because of illegal bowling action – need to find a suitable replacement considering if Ajmal does not return in time for the mega event.

Pakistan's problems further compounded when all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez's action was also reported last month.

A report on Hafeez's action is expected next week and if he is suspended, Misbah believes it will hurt his team's balance.

"We were jolted after Ajmal's suspension and if Hafeez is not there then our balance will be affected," admitted Misbah. "Hafeez is two in one and if he is not there then our balance will be affected.

"I have been praying for Ajmal's return but at the same time this is an opportunity for other bowlers to take responsibility and they are doing that."

Pakistan will also look for a settled batting combination, instead of using wicket-keeper batsman Sarfraz Ahmed as a make-shift opener.

"We want to go with genuine openers and want the first four batsmen settled before going for the World Cup," said Misbah, who praised New Zealand as a dangerous side. 

Pakistan also have recalled opener Nasir Jamshed to rely on.

It will be a fiercely contested 50-over contest after both teams shared a three-Test series and the two-match Twenty20 dual 1-1.

Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul Haq admitted his team can build confidence and momentum.

"This is one of our last chances before the World Cup, to look how we go into the World Cup so the focus is on that," said Misbah on Saturday.

"It's different pitches here [from Australia and New Zealand] but I still think the confidence and the momentum of this series will help us and it will not matter even if we are playing on different pitches here."

Pakistan have recalled experienced batsman Younis Khan after dropping him from the three-match one-day series against Australia which they lost 3-0 in October -- also played in United Arab Emirates.

Misbah believes Younis will provide experience to the side.

"His experience will help us," said Misbah, also hinting Pakistan will go with a settled opening pair instead of using wicket-keeper batsman Sarfraz Ahmed top of the order.

"New Zealand have adaptability and they have all-rounders and good spinners who can win matches for the Black Caps," said Misbah.

Also returning to the squad are pacemen Umar Gul, who has not played since April due to a knee problem, and Wahab Riaz – sidelined with a knee injury in October. 

New Zealand's stand-in captain Kane Williamson said Pakistan remain a dangerous side without Ajmal.

"We know it's a big challenge because Pakistan play well here, they have depth and even without Ajmal whichever side they put out is strong," said Williamson, standing in for Brendon McCullum who left for home after the Tests to prepare for the home series against Sri Lanka.

New Zealand play two Tests and seven one-day internationals starting later this month – to prepare for the World Cup, which they co-host with Australia.

"The fact that there is so much cricket before the World Cup so this middle series are the focus but we are conscious of the big event," said Williamson.

All-rounder Corey Anderson will return after missing the second Twenty20 as a precautionary measure after being hit by a bouncer in the first Twenty20 on Thursday, but opener Martin Guptill is still being monitored for a tight hamstring.

The remaining one-day matches will be played in Sharjah (December 12 and 14) and Abu Dhbai (December 17 and 19).

Teams (from):

Pakistan: Misbah-ul Haq (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Asad Shafiq, Bilawal Bhatti, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Irfan, Nasir Jamshed, Sarfraz Ahmed, Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Younis Khan, Zulfiqar Babar.

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: Aleem Dar (PAK) and Joel Wilson (WIS)

TV Umpire: Richard Illingworth (ENG)

Match Referee: Roshan Mahanama (SRI)