The former pacer's remarks came in an interaction with Cricbuzz. Zaheer Khan said India would want to see the top-two spots in the points table be open for as long as possible. He explained that Pakistan will pull ahead of the rest of the teams in Group 2 if they defeat New Zealand, thereby limiting India's chances of qualifying.
Zaheer Khan said:
"I feel New Zealand's win is very important because this is a different group. In the other one (Group 1), all are good teams so anyone can lose to anyone. On this side, there are two teams (Scotland and Namibia) which you expect to be defeated by every other team... So these 2-3 teams (Pakistan, New Zealand and Afghanistan) must defeat each other."
"As long as the top two spots in the table remain open, things will remain interesting. You don't want one team to surge ahead. Pakistan won against India and if they now defeat New Zealand too, their qualification will be almost certain because then you'll expect them to cross the line based on their NRR even if they lose against Afghanistan. So from an Indian point of view, a New Zealand win here becomes very crucial."
In two completed matches in Group 2 so far, Pakistan defeated India by 10 wickets and Afghanistan trounced Scotland by 130 runs. The latter result ensured Afghanistan a net run rate of +6.500 and a spot at the top of the table. All teams will play five matches in this round. The top two teams will then proceed to the semis.
"Interesting things can happen in this group" - Zaheer Khan
India will play their next match against New Zealand on Sunday. Zaheer Khan sees this week-long gap as a positive for Virat Kohli's men, saying they'll have a better idea of other teams' positions and can optimize their approach accordingly.
Zaheer Khan also said that Afghanistan's massive win and the presence of both Scotland and Namibia could prompt "interesting things" in the group.
Zaheer Khan asserted:
"India undoubtedly needs to win all the matches but you might need to start looking at the other results already. The good thing is that till the time India play their game, a lot of other teams would have played their matches. So they'll know where the things are headed to. They can then also look to put their foot on the paddle early with regards to the NRR. Because of the way Afghanistan has won their game and their NRR has flown, it's all got that much more interesting now in this group. This group is a bit light but interesting things can still happen because two teams are looking comparitively very weak."
Pakistan versus New Zealand clash is underway in Sharjah. Pakistan skipper Babar Azam won the toss and opted to bowl first. His bowlers then restricted Kane Williamson and co. to 134-8.
Despite the pitch being slow and low, New Zealand face an uphill task of defending a sub-par score against Pakistan's batting lineup.