What can Pakistan expect to achieve in the Test series against West Indies?
Thirteen days after Dave Richardson presented the ICC Test Championship mace to Misbahul Haq and Pakistan contentedly sat on the top of the ICC ranking table, India dislodged Pakistan from the number one position that is now theirs to claim for a while – unless New Zealand can steal a win in the third and final Test and Pakistan clean sweep the West Indies.
Number one or not, everyone can agree that the Pakistan team have proven what they are capable of as a Test side – all of which is due to the coaches, players and everyone who made positive contributions during this time of revival.
Team stability had a crucial role to play in Pakistan’s success over the years. Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbahul Haq, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed, in that same order, have been constant features of the side and should remain to be against the West Indies too.
However, over the past few years, especially during the most recent England tour, Pakistan is missing a genuine all-rounder who could contribute equally with both bat and ball – someone who adds depth to the batting line-up and provides the option of a fifth bowler.
Pakistan will be playing against the West Indies in Asian conditions, therefore, it would be most fitting if Pakistan opted for a bowling all-rounder who adds variety to the spin department. It is a two-way race between Mohammad Nawaz and Imad Wasim, both of whom are going through a purple patch in their careers.
While Imad has experienced more success in the shorter formats, it is debatable whether or not he will be able to replicate the same form in the longest format too. Imad and Nawaz, both being left-arm spinners, are completely different types of bowlers.
Imad banks on his dead-straight line for wickets where he cramps the batsmen up for room and frustrates them enough to make mistakes. Nawaz, on the contrary, is a proper spinner of the ball who knows how to extract turn out of the pitch by bowling on the correct lengths.
Since Nawaz does actually turn the ball, the one that stays straight becomes equally effective, leaving the batsmen confused. It was clear during the ODIs, that the West Indian batsmen were completely clueless while facing Nawaz, which is why he should get the nod ahead of Imad – who should focus on shorter formats at the moment.
As far as batting goes, while Imad, with an average of 41.91, does indeed have a higher batting average than Nawaz, (33.48) – Nawaz appears to be a step ahead of him when it comes to batting temperament. Imad has made a name for himself as a finisher for Pakistan in the shorter formats, but Nawaz looks to be the one who can dig in deep, get settled into the difficult Asian pitches and steadily keep the scoreboard ticking with his ability to rotate the strike at will.
For the top order, Pakistan has found the much-needed stability in the form of Sami Aslam whose excellent temperament and ability was on full display against a highly potent English pace attack that troubled even the likes of Younis. Azhar is most likely to maintain his position on top with Sami, and Asad Shafiq – Pakistan’s most technically correct batsman at the moment – will open at number three.
Shafiq looked at complete ease when batting at three against England. He even scored a century that sent out a clear indication that he wanted that spot to be his. That would mean that Babar Azam will have to wait another series or two before being inducted into the Test side.
Mohammad Amir will be making his Emirates Test comeback and is likely to be the first name on the sheet, alongside Wahab Riaz, who has found plenty of success in the recent past on difficult pitches – such as these where the bowler is required to hit the deck hard and generate his own pace and bounce.
While Wahab, Amir and Yasir Shah are most likely to be the first names on the sheet, Zulfiqar Babar might be worried about his spot and while this may be due to him performing below par, it can also be attributed to the continuous rise and success of bowlers like Muhammad Asghar, Zafar Gohar and even Kashif Bhatti – all of whom are left-arm orthodox bowlers.
While I do feel that Babar might get the nod in light of his performances in the past (where Yasir and him bowled amazing spells), one can expect either of the three names mentioned above to replace him sooner rather than later.
As far as the West Indian team is concerned, it is a side stuck in a vicious loop that receives a blow every time it progresses. However, expect the young duo of Roston Chase and Jermaine Blackwood to test the resolve of Pakistani bowlers with a similar display of temperament to the one against India that helped the West Indies draw the Test.
The fifth-wicket stand between the two, worth 93 runs, pushed India to the limit where Virat Kohli was left with no option but to accept the outcome of the match. In the bowling department, West Indies will be hoping to see the pairing of Shanon Gabriel and Alzarri Jospeh take wickets upfront using their raw pace.
West Indies are evidently short of match-winners in the spin compartment, which is most likely to be led by leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo, along with the part-time off-break option provided by Kraigg Brathwaite. While the spin options for West Indies are indeed limited, their pace attack will challenge Pakistan.
All in all, there is plenty of cricket for Misbah and his boys to look forward to. West Indies are not the toughest of oppositions, therefore, realistically speaking, Pakistan should be displeased with anything less than 3-0, that too on familiar conditions. Experiments with the squad can be afforded prior to the tour of Australia and New Zealand to ensure that Pakistan head south with their best possible combinations.
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