Scrappy Pakistan seek white-ball revival

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Pakistan v West Indies, 1st T20I

Dubai—Pakistan’s stellar run in Test cricket culminated with their rise to No.1 in the ICC’s rankings for the first time . In limited-overs cricket, however, they are way behind the pack: ninth in ODIs and seventh in T20Is. Their outdated style, based on a safety-first approach, has largely been responsible for their sharp nosedive.
West Indies are 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 – aren’t in either squad, 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. Fast bowler Kesrick Williams, who bowled a sensational triple-wicket maiden in the CPL, is also in the mix.
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 they convert it into a proper white-ball revival.
In the spotlight
Former Pakistan coach Waqar Younis was all for Umar regaining his berth in the national side 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. His cousin, Babar Azam, who was among those to receive glowing appraisals from coach Mickey Arthur after the England tour, seems a good investment.
Finisher with bat, finisher with the ball. Excellent situational awareness. Dwayne Bravo is probably the most sought-after T20 player. Pakistan will have to be wary of the big dipping offcutter on sluggish surfaces the sides are likely to encounter in this series.
Teams news
The returning 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.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Sharjeel Khan, 2 Khalid Latif, 3 Babar Azam, 4 Umar Akmal, 5 Shoaib Malik, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Wahab Riaz, 9 Hasan Ali/Mohammad Nawaz/Saad Nasim, 10 Sohail Tanvir, 11 Mohammad Amir
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. The other uncapped player in the squad- Williams – did not bowl or bat in the warm-up match. This suggests there will be a shootout between Jerome Taylor and Jason Holder for the seam bowling berth.
West Indies (probable): 1 Johnson Charles, 2 Evin Lewis, 3 Marlon Samuels, 4 Andre Fletcher(wk), 5 Rovman Powell/Nicholas Pooran, 6 Kieron Pollard, 7 Carlos Brathwaite(capt), 8 Dwayne Bravo, 9 Sunil Narine, 10 Samuel Badree, 11 Jerome Taylor/Jason Holder
Pitch and conditions
Powell had said that the surface for the practice game was dry and slow. A similar surface is expected for the first T20I. Friday is expected to be a sunny day with the temperature nudging towards 40 degrees. However, It is likely to drop to 33 degrees at night.
Stats and trivia
Sohail Tavir needs three wickets to become the fourth Pakistan bowler, after Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal, to reach 50 wickets in T20Is.
Bravo is the second-highest wicket-taker in T20s this year with 63 scalps in 54 matches. Russell tops the list with 68 wickets in 51 matches. Pakistan have lost seven out of 12 T20Is in 2016. West Indies, meanwhile, have lost only one of eight T20Is this year.—AFP