The dictionary defines mercurial as: changeable; volatile; fickle; flighty; erratic.
While we are still 16 days away from Mercury being at its farthest point from the sun, we are seeing two of the most mercurial teams playing in Sri Lanka tonight. New Zealand and Pakistan are both teams that can look like a Rolls-Royce or a rubbish truck.
Between the two teams in the last 3 years they have been involved in 20 matches that have been either won or lost by 100 or more runs, and 13 that have been concluded with more than 15 overs remaining.
In the 10 most recent matches between the two teams, 2 have been close. New Zealand won by 7 runs at Abu Dhabi and lost by 2 wickets with 6 balls remaining at Napier. But 2 have been two of the most one sided matches in recent memory between test teams: NZ won by 9 wickets just after the first drinks break at Wellington, but lost another match at Abu Dhabi by 138 runs.
As a result it is almost impossible to say who will win this match. The 10 matches are 5-4 to NZ with one N/R (that Pakistan were looking quite good in). It is a strange situation where a match is too close to call, and yet will probably be very one-sided.
To add to the mystery the game is the first ever ODI at Pallekele. Looking through the previous games at lower levels, the one thing that seems constant is rain. Almost every match was decided by messers Duckworth and Lewis. However, even this can't be relied on, as the forecast is for a pleasant sunny day, with negligible wind.
One thing that has been common on this ground is lots of wickets and runs for quick bowlers, and not may wickets or runs for spinners. In one match a quick took 5/57 off 7, while a spinner got 0/17 off his 7 overs. This suggests that it is a pitch that gets good bounce.
Given all this here is my (somewhat hesitant) things to watch for:
1. Tim Southee. Southee has really shone under Allen Donald and John Wright, taking 14 wickets in 8 matches at 21.71. There have only been two bowlers to have taken more wickets in that time, both of them are also (likely to be) playing, Shahid Afridi and Hamish Bennett. The difference here is that those other two players have been as mercurial as their teams, taking 4 and 5 wicket bags, and then nothing, whereas Southee has been difficult for his opponents in all but one match (on the road at Napier). Southee loves a little bounce, and a little greenness. Look for a big performance from him, especially if New Zealand bowl first.
2. Brendan McCullum. John Wright has been trying to get McCullum to slow down a bit. McCullum has averaged near 60 recently in tests, and near 20 in ODI's. If he manages to score some more runs, even at a lower strike-rate he may become much more of an asset for New Zealand.
3. Misbah-ul-Haq. This year Misbah has scored 388 runs at 77.60. And he's scored a lot of those runs against New Zealand. If they are going to win this game, they will probably need to find a way to get past him.
4. James Franklin and Wahab Riaz. In the few games that we do have records of at Pallekele left arm fast medium bowlers have been the most effective. This could just be coincidence or it could be something about the make up of the pitch. This game may just tell us.
5. Shahid Afridi. He has taken lots of wickets so far in the tournament, but his average against New Zealand is a pedestrian 47.78, which is particularly odd given that he is a leg-spinner and generally New Zealand batsmen have struggled against leg-spin.
If I was going to be betting on this game (and I probably won't be, it's too hard to call) I would be looking at putting money on top innings run scorer. I'd look at someone who was good at playing pull, hook and cut shots, given that the pitch is likely to bounce a bit. Perhaps someone like Umar Akmal might be a good look.