The series between the top-ranked team playing at home and a West Indian team without its key players doesn’t have much by way of intrigue in it. Since the PSL final, the hype, the excitement, clamour for tickets, mayhem on the streets, overwhelming security and crazy marketing campaigns have all been toned down. It’s not about the revival of international cricket so much as its normalisation now.
Pakistan have the upper hand, what with the West Indies featuring an inexperienced, depleted side. The series may end up being a one-sided affair after Cricket West Indies had to scramble to assemble a squad of 13 players ready to visit Pakistan. Many automatic selections including Chris Gayle, Jason Holder and Evin Lewis along with the T20 captain Carlos Brathwaite pulled out. The series will see West Indies vice-captain Jason Mohammed step up to lead the side in the absence of regular captain Brathwaite in the three-match series.
Although Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur somewhat patronisingly termed West Indies a “dangerous” side that had “nothing to lose”, the biggest challenge for the visitors is to keep the series competitive. They have to recover from the jetlag, having to turn up to play just hours after landing in Karachi from the Caribbean. Pakistan, on the other hand, have been in the city for several days, and been training well ahead of the three back-to-back-to-back games.
Pakistan’s 15-man squad has plenty of young, in-form players raring to go in the international games. The batting is centred around Fakhar Zaman, Shoaib Malik and Babar Azam, while the bowling is led by Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali, with a new sensation in the 17-year-old fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi likely to make his debut.
Pakistan are presently atop the world T20I rankings and the three-match series will give them the opportunity to widen the gap between themselves and Australia at No. 2. A 3-0 victory will see Pakistan consolidate their position, while in the unlikely event of them suffering a 3-0 reverse, they will slip to fourth.
West Indies LLWWW
In the spotlight
Given his indifferent form in the PSL, Ahmed Shehzad‘s selection for the home series raised a lot of eyebrows. The opening batsman had a poor PSL season with the bat, scoring 173 runs at 19.22 with a strike rate of 85.22, but selectors have decided to stick with him given his decent T20I form. A propensity to play out far too many dot balls for the modern game often sees him come under fierce criticism, but he is the second-highest run-getter for Pakistan in T20Is since the start of 2017, behind only Babar Azam, with 367 at 33.36. He will look to improve his numbers further against West Indies’ short-of-big-names side.
There is no denying West Indies’ inexperience, but it is the one side you wouldn’t bet against in this format. One man Pakistan wouldn’t want to write off in particular is Marlon Samuels. Twice a World T20 winner – not to mention Man of the Match in both finals he’s played, Samuels will be the major driving force for the Caribbean side, and is expected to provide much-needed support for captain Jason Mohammed. When West Indies visited Pakistan last 12 years ago, a memorable unbeaten 100 from Samuels in Multan saw West Indies rout Pakistan. Shoaib Malik – the only Pakistan survivor from that game – will be sure not to let his side underestimate him.
There are no fitness concerns in the Pakistan squad. With the uncapped Hussain Talat, Asif Ali and Shaheen Shah Afridi all in form, it is possible Pakistan give all three players their debut in the first game in Karachi.
Pakistan (likely XI): 1 Fakhar Zaman, 2 Ahmed Shehzad, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 5. Shoaib Malik, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Shadab Khan, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Mohammad Amir, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
It’s difficult to predict West Indies’ combination, but there is no news of injury. With two uncapped players of their own, the first game could see several players from each side taking their first steps in international cricket.
West Indies (likely XI): 1 Andre Fletcher, 2 Chadwick Walton, 3 Marlon Samuels, 4 Jason Mohammed (capt), 5 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 6 Rovman Powell, 7 Keemo Paul, 8 Rayad Emrit, 9 Veerasammy Permaul, 10 Samuel Badree, 11 Kesrick Williams
Pitch and conditions
The temperature in Karachi has risen drastically since the PSL final last week, touching 40 degrees Celsius, but the sea breeze in the evening should make the weather more pleasant. The pitch is expected to be hard with the sun baking it all day, and a run-fest could be on the cards.
Stats and trivia
Pakistan have a 6-1 win-loss record at home in seven T20Is. Their only defeat was to World XI last year.
Since the start of 2017, Pakistan have been the best T20I side in terms of results, with a 10-3 win-loss record.
In the last 15 months, Babar Azam has been Pakistan’s highest run-getter (461 at 41.90) and Shadab Khan their highest wicket-taker (19 at 16.15).
“This series provides opportunities for new players to stake their claim for a regular place in the team, plus gain vital experience in different conditions. We expect the series to be highly competitive.”
Courtney Browne, the head of the West Indies selection panel