By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's late push for a place in next year's International Cricket Council's World Test Championship final will come to a head against an injury-hit Pakistan when their two-test series begins on Saturday in Mount Maunganui.
Kane Williamson's side are third behind Australia and India and need to win both the first game at Bay Oval and then the second from Jan. 3-7 at Hagley Oval in Christchurch to give themselves any chance of making the final at Lord's.
Williamson, however, was well aware they would also need other results go their way, which may account for him attempting to downplay the underlying significance of the series.
"I think the context of that (the test championship) is great for the game in general," he told reporters this week. "But our focus ... is to basically start again.
"It's about coming back to the basics and playing what is in front of us rather than getting too carried away with potential things."
New Zealand's chances of sweeping the series have been boosted by the return of top batsman Williamson, who missed the innings and 12-run victory over West Indies in Wellington as he awaited the birth of his first child.
Tim Southee also has added motivation for the first match, with the pace bowling spearhead just four wickets away from joining Richard Hadlee and Daniel Vettori as the third New Zealand bowler to achieve 300 test wickets.
Pakistan, however, will be without injured captain Babar Azam, opener Imam-Ul-Haq and all-rounder Shadab Khan and stand-in captain Mohammad Rizwan said while they would miss the trio he expected others to take their opportunities.
"We trust them," he said. "And hope they will play well."
Rizwan was also not concerned with the heavily grassed wicket block, which could prove advantageous for the home side's strong pace bowling quartet.
"It doesn't matter for the pitch if there is a bit of grass," he said.
"If it's difficult for us, it's difficult for New Zealand."
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)