Pakistan will be taking on World Champions West Indies in a three-match T20 series starting today in Dubai. New captain Sarfraz Ahmed would be leading his side for the second series – and the second match – today, after thumping England in the only T20 at Old Trafford. And while the solitary T20 in England couldn’t have gone any better, a full three-match series against the team that won the World Cup earlier this year would be a true test of where Pakistan stand as a T20 unit, amidst the contrasting fortunes of the Test and ODI sides.
The West Indies challenge would be tough despite the series being on Pakistan’s ‘home’ turf in the Emirates, and despite the fact that the champions are without Chris Gayle and Lendl Simmons. Not only is the ‘home’ advantage – that Pakistan would’ve had owing to the conditions – neutralised by the fact that West Indies won the World T20 in similar conditions in India, but also because many of their members played in these very stadia during February’s Pakistan Super League (PSL). Dwayne Bravo, Samuel Badree and Andre Russels all participated in the inaugural PSL season, with the latter two actually representing the league champions Islamabad United.
Despite high-profile absentees up top, West Indies batting is as formidable as any in world cricket. The newly appointed captain Carlos Brathwaite, who hit four consecutive sixes to Ben Stokes in the final over of the World T20 to win the title for T20, is leading a side that scored 245 in their last match against India, eventually edging out the thriller by one run.
While batting is an obvious strength for the West Indies, Pakistan cricket is still trying to prove that it has batsmen that belong to modern day limited-overs cricket. Even though the win against England, and the manner in which it was achieved, might have addressed some of the concerns – especially up top, with Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif – the fact remains that most batsmen in the Pakistani squad are unproven commodities.
Umar Akmal’s recall seems like a desperate attempt to fill in the void in the middle order with a flair player, who has on many occasions conclusively proven that he’s more miss than hit. Similarly Shoaib Malik is very much a part of Pakistan’s mediocre past and not the future – how long he remains in the present plans remains to be seen. Either way there clearly are batting slots up for grab between the openers and the lower middle order, with Sarfraz himself being the only shoo-in for the starting 11 and Imad Wasim establishing himself at number 7.
Pakistan’s bowling performance against England was a truly masterful depiction of the modern art of T20 bowling, with all kinds of variations needed in the modern game. Hassan Ali was especially a revelation, with Imad Wasim now expected to bowl his full quota of overs in both ODIs and T20s without giving too many runs away.
The recently wed Mohammed Amir would be spearheading Pakistan’s pace attack, with Wahab Riaz and T20 specialist Sohail Tanvir in support. Mohammed Nawaz, the biggest find of PSL 1, will provide backup to Imad Wasim and the slow left-arm bowling all-rounder.
Such has been the Test side’s legacy of late that Pakistan are now the default favourites in any contest in the UAE. But the limited-overs sides have a lot of ground to gain to live up to that billing. Not only will the series be a test of Pakistan’s T20 prowess, it will also be an examination of Sarfraz Ahmed as not only the T20 squad’s long-term captain, buy maybe a choice for the longer formats as well. There is no better way for him to prove his credentials than a series win against the World Champs.
Pakistan squad: Sarfaraz Ahmed (Captain), Sharjeel Khan, Khalid Latif, Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Imad Wasim, Hasan Ali, Muhammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Sohail Tanvir, Muhammad Nawaz, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Saad Nasim, Rumaan Raees
West Indies squad: Carlos Brathwaite (captain), Samuel Badree, Dwayne Bravo, Johnson Charles, Andre Fletcher, Jason Holder, Evin Lewis, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard, Nicholas Pooran, Rovman Powell, Andre Russell, Marlon Samuels, Jerome Taylor, Chadwick Walton.