Talking about the decline of West Indian cricket seems a waste of time given the span of generations since their last consistently competitive cricket, but considering the unpredictable nature of the Pakistan team, one cannot easily predict the outcome of the series ahead.
Pakistan aim for history
Since the rapid decline of West Indian cricket in 2004, most of the teams around the world have cashed in, picking up routine victories in the Caribbean consistently. The same sides that were once crushingly thrashed when the West Indies were in their pomp, or at the very least competitive, started to create their own history with key wins over the embattled island nations.
Be it India, New Zealand or even Bangladesh, victories for visiting sides have come quickly, but, surprisingly, Pakistan have failed to join in and remain searching for their first series win in the Caribbean, an even more stark statistical quirk when you note that Pakistan have oft-dominated the West Indies, not losing a home Test to them in 26 years (1990-2016) and winning every series played on Pakistani soil between the two sides in the same period.
But, when it comes to playing the West Indies, Pakistan have failed to replicate that form on tour. In the last three series between the two nations, played in 2000, 2005 & 2011, they have failed to live up to the grandiose expectations of victory on tour which illustrates just how tough a task Misbah Ul Haq and his men have in the upcoming series.
Pakistan will have to fight the demons inside their own minds as much as they will have to fight their West Indian opponents.
Pakistan also head in to the first Test with a new pair of experienced openers with the careers of both Ahmed Shehzad and Shaan Masood getting lifelines from the selectors. Azhar Ali will also return to his favoured role at number three in the order while the evergreen Misbah Ul Haq and Younis Khan, together with Asad Shafiq make up an interesting and talented Pakistan unit that will need to gel far better than they did on their last tour down under.
Mohammad Amir and Yasir Shah are certainties for selection but it remains to be seen who Pakistan will opt for between Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali. Ali has been impressive in limited overs cricket while Riaz was disappointing in Australia and New Zealand, meaning selectors have an interesting conundrum to work through.
The second spinning role is likely to be handed to Shadab Khan, though in the recent tour match, Pakistan opted to move away from playing two leg spinners by selecting left armer Mohammad Ashgar a run out, but he failed to impress.
Likely team: Ahmed Shehzad, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, YounisKhan, Misbah ulHaq (Captain), Asad Shafiq, Sarfaraz Khan (wk), Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz/HasanAli, Yasir Shah, Sadab Khan.
West Indies target pride
The West Indies come in to this series having lost all three limited overs series they have played at home this season, with the situation seemingly becoming so hopeless that few gave much credence or credit to the touring sides for the victories, even at a time where winning series away from home seems harder than ever.
However, their proud record against Pakistan is something that Jason Holder and his troops will likely fight to preserve despite being a young outfit missing some of their biggest starts, with Bravo, Samuels and Taylor chief among those missing, meaning they will be required to punch significantly above their weight once again.
All hope is not lost, the West Indies did fight back to win the last Test of the series between these two nations back in October, showing they have some grounds for optimism headed in to the first Test.
Kraigg Brathwaite, who has shown immense maturity for his age, will be partnered at the top of the order by Kieran Powell. Powell’s career has hit a roadblock and his performances in the regional four-day tournament have been average but, like Vishaul Singh and Shimron Hetmyer, he has been selected on the basis of performances in the WICB’s President’s XI team.
It is also time that players like Jermaine Blackwood and Roston Chase stood up and took the mantle of senior leaders within the squad, with both of them still early in their careers but with little to no senior mentors available to them, they have had to forge their own paths and their experience could be invaluable moving forward.
The surprises in the West Indian outfit come from their bowling stocks with the selectors preferring pace over spin, a nod to the conditions at Sabina Park. Devendra Bishoo is the lone spinner in the team, with Alzari Joseph, Miguel Cummins, Shannon Gabriel and skipper Jason Holder all included as pace-bowling options. It is surprising that a player like Nikita Miller, who has churned out record after record has been overlooked once again while he is joined in those missing the cut by Kemar Roach, who has been impressive this season but not enough so to earn a nod from Courtney Browne and the selection panel.
Likely Team: Kraig Brathwaite , Kieran Powall, Shimron Hetmyer, Vishaul Singh, James Blackwood, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich (Wk), Jason Holder (Captain), Devendra Bishoo, Shannon Gabriel, Miguel Cummins/Alzari Joseph.
A historic moment for Sabina Park
In an era where most pitches in the West Indies have changed their nature and have either become flat roads or turners, Sabina Park, along with Bridgetown have kept alive the tradition with pace-friendly surfaces more reminiscent of yesteryear.
The Test will mark the fiftieth Test played on the ground that has played a big role in the traditions and past glories of the West Indies and their once dominant teams.
The Jamaican Cricket Association will be celebrating the historic moment by taking a number of initiatives, including a retro themed day on the 23rd of April. The JCA Marketing Committee chairman Mark Neita also said that the JCA would be “trying to make the occasion special by honouring some of the outstanding players of the past who made Jamaica proud.” This would include key figures like Jackie Hendricks, Wavell Hinds and Maurice Foster among others.
While this is the 50th Test match at Sabina Park, the first Test was played at the venue in 1930. Sabina Park was also the venue at which Sir Garfield Sobers played a world-record innings of 365* against Pakistan in 1958.
Pakistan has never won a Test series in the West Indies.
The last time these two opponents met at this ground, the visitors won by 136 runs, back in 2005.
Younis Khan enters the first Test on 9977, only 23 runs shy of becoming the first Pakistani to score 10,000 runs in Test cricket.
Misbah Ul Haq is only 49 runs short of becoming the oldest player to reach 5000 Test runs.
The first Test marks the 50th time these two nations have squared off against each other in Test match cricket. Of the first 49, Pakistan have won 18 Tests, the West Indies have won 16 while in the West Indies, the record favours the home side who have won 11 Tests and lost 5.
In the last 20 years, the West Indies have won only 4 Test matches and lost 11 against Pakistan.
What stands out to you as the key factors leading in to the first Test of the series between the West Indies and Pakistan? Let us know in the comments below.