West Indies and Pakistan are temperamentally so similar that when they are in their element, they almost guarantee a bare-knuckled scrap. The genesis of the rivalry goes a long way back and the nuances were on show during the recently concluded Twenty20 International series. There were many twists and turns through the four matches before Pakistan took the series 3-1. In fact, the last time the two teams played a One-Day International series in the West Indies in 2013, there were many close games including a tied encounter.
Another chapter will be added to the rivalry during the three-match ODI series, which kicks off at the Providence Stadium in Guyana on Friday (April 7).
Considering that West Indies have not beaten anyone in a bilateral series outside Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Ireland since winning against New Zealand at home in July 2012, Pakistan could be tagged as favourites. While both teams would be aiming to win the series to consolidate their positions on the International Cricket Council’s ranking table in their bid to qualify directly for the World Cup in 2019, there is a lot more at stake.
This will be Sarfraz Ahmed’s first series since his appointment as Pakistan’s full-time ODI captain. He has been very particular about the brand of cricket Pakistan should play under him. With him set to become the captain in all three formats once Misbah-ul-Haq retires from international cricket after the three Tests that will follow this series, these three ODIs are yet another chance for Sarfraz to send across his message.
One of the keys to Pakistan’s T20I series win was their fearlessness on the field. Sarfraz was not afraid to give Shadab Khan the ball in crucial junctures. The teenaged legspinner responded with ten wickets at a strike-rate of 9.5 and an economy of 4.73. In a low-scoring series, it proved decisive. Equally influential was Hasan Ali, who returned figures of 4-2-12-2 with his pace bowling in the series decider.
Both Shadab, who broke into the Test squad and could pair up with Yasir Shah very soon, and Hasan would be eager to continue their form. Their immediate knowledge of the local conditions will allow Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan to settle down quickly.
There will also be plenty of attention on Kamran Akmal, who is returning to the ODI fold after almost four years. He has had a terrific domestic season in white-ball cricket, and showed his experience in the third T20I where he made 48 off 37 balls before being caught off a full toss. If Akmal, who has played 154 ODIs, clicks in the upcoming series, it will go a long way in helping Pakistan address their top-order issue.
Teams (from): West Indies: Jason Holder (capt), Devendra Bishoo, Jonathan Carter, Miguel Cummins, Shannon Gabriel, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Evin Lewis, Jason Mohammed, Ashley Nurse, Kieran Powell, Rovman Powell, Chadwick Walton. Pakistan: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt, wk), Ahmed Shehzad, Asif Zakir, Babar Azam, Fahim Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Junaid Khan, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asghar, Mohammad Hafeez, Shadab Khan, Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz.
Like Shadab and Hasan, Chadwick Walton was another player to impress in the T20Is. His 80 runs in the series earned him selection for the first two ODIs as West Indies’ reserve wicketkeeper, behind Shai Hope.
West Indies, though, will be without Carlos Braithwaite. Stuart Law, the coach, said Brathwaite had been asked to work on his bowling and fitness, and that playing for Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League would help him develop him as a cricketer.
“I thought the opportunity was there for Carlos to go away and work on a few aspects of his game, namely his fitness and bowling, and getting back to bowling how he wants to bowl,” Law had said recently. “That’s why he has been left out, and it’s just coincided that the IPL is there and we have no cricket after this series and he has not been a part of the last Test series.
“So, the selectors gave him the option of going to the IPL as well, which I think is a good thing,” he added. “(He will) get to talk to guys like Rahul Dravid, learn how to play spin, get plenty of practice, and work on his fitness and bowling.”
The last time Pakistan won a bilateral ODI series outside Asia, barring in Zimbabwe and Ireland, was way back in November 2013 when they prevailed in South Africa. Misbah was the captain, and Sarfraz was not even a part of the squad.
So much has changed in Pakistan cricket since then, and they would want to change it further with a winning start to Sarfraz’s ODI captaincy career.