Hamilton:New Zealand and Pakistan will begin a two-Test cricket series on Friday which has been sandwiched between and almost eclipsed in importance by three Twenty20 and six One-Day Internationals.
The Twenty20 series, won 2-1 by New Zealand, satisfied fans' appetite for the shortest form of the game and the extended one-day series will cap the teams' preparation for the World Cup which starts on the subcontinent in February.
Crammed between the two limited overs contests the Test series, shortened from three to two matches, seems an afterthought, though both teams have important points to make after the troubles of the recent past.
New Zealand most recently drew with world No 1 India in two Tests before being heavily beaten in the third Test of a three-match series. It takes a sense of confidence into its home series on the basis of those matches, in which it showed an ability, particularly through ex-wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum, to make large scores in favourable conditions.
Captain Daniel Vettori said his players' ability to build long innings would not be compromised by their recent diet of Twenty20 matches.
"The nature of cricket these days is that you change from format to format, and good players make sure they can switch and that's what we have to do," he said.
"We competed in India because we scored big first innings runs and were able to stay in the game, so that's our first goal and bring as much penetration as we can with the ball."
McCullum's double century in the second Test against India was New Zealand's highlight of that series and vindicated his decision to put down the wicketkeeping gloves -Reece Young will make his Test debut behind the stumps - and to play as a specialist batsman.
McCullum there was pressure on all New Zealand batsmen, especially its traditionally vulnerable top order, to perform.
"Individually each batsman has got to be accountable for their own game and make sure their performances stack up," he said.
"I know what my job is at the top of the order. It's to score runs, bat time, and make it easier for the strokemakers we've got to follow.
"We've got some quite brilliant strokemakers in our lineup. Given the right conditions to express their talent they're as good as anyone in the world."
New Zealand will attempt to overturn the perception that it is in a slump in all forms of the game after its losing streak of 11 matches in one-day internationals. It has also dropped to eighth place on world Test rankings, two places below Pakistan, and both teams see the series as a chance to climb the rankings.
Pakistan recently drew a two-Test series 0-0 with No 2 South Africa and is battling problems of perception and reputation which are much larger than New Zealand's.
The match fixing scandal which engulfed the team in England midyear, resulting in the suspension and investigation of captain Salman Butt and fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, has dogged it even to the Antipodes.
The loss of those front-line players and of wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal and batsman Mohammad Yousuf appears to have weakened the team which will be led by Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan's fourth captain in the past year.
The team was further hit this week by the loss of spinner Saeed Ajmal who returned to Pakistan after the death of his father. The defections leave Umar Gul and left-armers Wahab Riaz and Sohail Tanvir to lead the bowling attack while Abdur Rehman is the tourists' only spin option.
New Zealand: Daniel Vettori (captain), Brendon McCullum, Tim McIntosh, Martin Guptill, Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder, Kane Williamson, Reece Young, Tim Southee, Brent Arnel, Chris Martin, James Franklin, Daryl Tuffey.
Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Adnan Akmal, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, Umar Gul, Tanvir Ahmed, Sohail Tanvir, Wahab Riaz.