Expect another World Cup classic
Pakistan and West Indies generally don't do boring World Cup games, so the expectant throng that congregates at Sabina Park early on Tuesday morning is well justified in expecting something special from the tournament opener. The last time the two sides met in this competition was eight years ago. On the surface, it was a prosaic game at the County Ground in Bristol, with Pakistan fairly comfortable winners by 27 runs. No one that watched it would ever call it mundane though.
It's a measure of how much Shoaib Akhtar's presence will be missed tomorrow that an otherwise unremarkable game is best remembered for his first delivery, a searing bouncer that Sherwin Campbell could only top-edge over third man for six. With no Shoaib, and no Mohammad Asif - the best young bowler in the world by some distance - Pakistan's attack looks paperweight, but it's exactly in such situations that teams have come to be wary against them.
Rana Naved-ul-Hasan may yet recapture the form that made him such a dangerous one-day performer for a couple of seasons, while both the wretchedly inconsistent Mohammad Sami and the fragile Umar Gul have the pace to hustle the very best. Inconsistency and flattering to deceive have become a motif of this West Indies side as well, so it'll be especially interesting to see which team blinks first when the pressure starts to build.
The pitches have been the subject of much discussion since the teams arrived here, and Andy Roberts for one doesn't believe that they'll be anything like as turgid as some expect. The surface at Sabina Park has seldom been that docile anyway, with memories still fresh of the bloodbath in the 1975-76 Test against the Indians, and of a remarkable Test last year when Rahul Dravid's sterling batting led India home in a three-day Test on a pitch that was jalapeno-spicy.
That leaves both sides with a selection headache or two. For West Indies, it will most likely mean choosing between the allrounder, Dwayne Smith, and the fast bowler, Daren Powell, while Pakistan will have to plump for either the burgeoning all-round skills of Yasir Arafat or the unpredictable legspin option that Danish Kaneria offers. With a certain Brian Charles Lara in the opposition, Kaneria's place may well be on the dressing-room bench.
Both teams rely heavily on the top order. If Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul can provide some sort of platform for Lara and Ramnaresh Sarwan, West Indies are eminently capable of toppling anyone. But when Gayle fails, it appears to have a deflating effect on those that follow. Pakistan would have noted his recent travails against Ajit Agarkar, and he should expect an early delivery or two shaping into his pads.
Pakistan's opening woes have been voluminously documented. Shahid Afridi's two-match ban eliminates one interesting option, and after suggestions that Younis Khan would be asked to shore things up against the new ball, it now appears as though the duo of Mohammad Hafeez and Imran Nazir will be given another opportunity. Younis, Mohammad Yousuf and Inzamam-ul-Haq form the bulwark, and will need to be careful against the medium pace of Ian Bradshaw and Corey Collymore. Neither comes from the great West Indies tradition of express fast bowlers, but both are canny customers adept at putting the ball on a sixpence and waiting for the mistake.
Having played out classics at Edgbaston (1975, when Roberts and Deryck Murray guided West Indies home) and Lahore (1987, when Courtney Walsh famously refused to run out Salim Jaffer), supporters on both sides will only hope that the match isn't a reprise of that quite bizarre game in 1992, when Rameez Raja stodged his way to a century and then saw Desmond Haynes return the compliment with a painstaking 93 as only two wickets fell in the 50 overs. West Indies, though, won't mind a repeat of the result, a crushing ten-wicket triumph.
West Indies (likely) 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Brian Lara (capt), 5 Marlon Samuels, 6 Dwayne Bravo, 7 Dwayne Smith, 8 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 9 Ian Bradshaw, 10 Jerome Taylor, 11 Corey Collymore.
Pakistan (likely) 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Imran Nazir, 3 Younis Khan, 4 Mohammad Yousuf, 5 Inzamam-ul-Haq (capt), 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Kamran Akmal (wk), 8 Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, 9 Yasir Arafat, 10 Mohammad Sami, 11 Umar Gul.
Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo