World champions West Indies will get their official campaign going today when they engage the top Test playing nation Pakistan in their opening T20 fixture here in Dubai.
Pakistan’s stellar run in Test cricket culminated with their rise to No.1 in the ICC’s rankings for the first time earlier this week but their limited-overs cricket performances have left much to be desired – ninth in ODIs and seventh in T20Is. Their outdated style, based on a safety-first approach, has largely been responsible for their sharp nosedive – a stark contrast to their opponents.
West Indies are way behind the pack in Test cricket, but their attack-first approach in limited-overs cricket, especially in T20Is, has made them the heartthrobs of the shortest format. It resurfaced when they secured their second World T20 earlier this year in India.
Their MVPs Andre Russell and Chris Gayle are not in the team but they still have the luxury of depth. Opener Evin Lewis shellacked a 48-ball ton against India in Lauderhill last month, the sixth fastest in T20Is. The uncapped players – Rovman Powell and Nicholas Pooran, who hit 143 out of West Indies Under-19s’ 208 at this venue two years ago at the World Cup – overcame a top-order flutter in the warm-up game against Emirates Cricket Board XI on Tuesday.
Despite the comfortable win, coach, Roddy Estwick is still not pleased with their execution in all departments and has been working to improve these areas in the build up to today’s match.
The Windies easily beat the Board XI by 22 runs and Estwick said the outing had highlighted deficiencies which needed to be corrected. “[The game] was a good work out for us because it was the first time we’ve been out in the middle since we’ve been here so we’re happy with that,” Estwick told reporters here.
“But there are areas to improve and we’re going to try and make sure that over the next few days we try and utilise all the facilities and get it absolutely right.”
Finisher with bat, finisher with the ball and excellent situational awareness, Dwayne Bravo is probably the most sought-after T20 player and Pakistan will have to be wary of the big dipping offcutter on sluggish surfaces the sides are likely to encounter in this series.
Pooran will jostle with Powell for a middle-order slot thrown open by the absence of Lendl Simmons, who is out because of medial reasons.
Pakistan don’t have enough firepower, but Sarfraz Ahmed’s calmness in a team filled with mercurial batsmen stands out. They also welcome back their highest run-getter in T20Is – Umar Akmal (1689 runs at a strike rate of 122.92). They showed some late sparks on the trip to the UK, but it remains to be seen if they can convert it into a proper white-ball revival.
Former Pakistan coach Waqar Younis was all for Umar regaining his berth following the World T20 if he showed domestic form. Umar has done just that, finishing as the leading run-getter in the National T20 Cup with 363 runs, including 34 in an over off Yasir Arafat, at an average and strike rate of 72.60 and 183.33.
Umar is a near-certainty in the XI, which means Mohammad Rizwan, who had played as a specialist batsman in the one-off T20 at Old Trafford, is likely to miss out. Left-arm spinning allrounder Mohammad Nawaz, who claimed 4 for 26 to seal Karachi Blues’ tense National T20 Cup win, might push Hasan Ali and Saad Nasim out of the team.