Turbulent West Indies look towards future
Match FactsApril 21, Gros Islet
Start time 1400 (1800 GMT)
The Big Picture
A meeting between Pakistan and West Indies should be just the sort of combination of volatile elements that makes for an absorbing contest. One simply can't know what to expect from two teams famous for displays of talent and inconsistency in equal measure. Off-field disturbances can add to the soap opera, but there haven't been many occasions in the recent past when Pakistan have entered a series as the more stable, settled side. The current turbulence in West Indies cricket ahead of the tour opener at Gros Islet means the spotlight has been firmly on the hosts in the build-up.
Just five members of the team that played the World Cup quarter-final against Pakistan last month are in the squad for the opening Twenty20. Though Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard were not eligible for selection because they did not play in the Caribbean T20 earlier this year, there is no place either for Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan or Sulieman Benn, though Darren Sammy retains his place as captain.
The possibility of this sort of purge arose after coach Ottis Gibson's ominous reproach of the "senior players" after the quarter-final exit from the World Cup, but few would have expected the changes to be quite so extensive. Gayle's exit could prove the most troublesome. The only constant at the top of the order in the last decade, he was in the middle of a rehabilitation programme for an injury picked up during the World Cup, but would have been eligible to play in the final three ODIs and the Tests that followed. Instead, he will play for the Royal Challengers in the IPL, and an inexperienced team will have to do without his experience and confident swagger at the crease.
The situation was not quite as bad the last time Pakistan toured the Caribbean, back in 2005, but the warning signs were there. West Indies were in the throes of internal turmoil caused by the long-running contractual wrangles with their sponsors, and though Pakistan were not without their own backroom troubles they breezed to a 3-0 win in the ODIs before drawing the Test series.
They have every chance of pulling off a similar result this time - and could well end their record of never having won a Test series in the West Indies. The news of Zulqarnain Haider's impending return to Pakistan and the potential pot-stirring from the announcement of stringent new guidelines for player agents following Mazhar Majeed's alleged misdeeds in England last summer were absorbed without missing a beat and a convincing win over a West Indies Vice Chancellor's XI in their first practice match will only have bolstered Pakistan's preparations.
With West Indies' big guns gone and Pakistan starting as firm favourites, the Twenty20 match on Thursday could well set the tone for the tour. How long will Pakistan's stability last? Does this latest twist represent a tangible change of direction for West Indies, or will it be yet another phase in the re-building exercise that has been going on for the best part of two decades?
Form guide(most recent first)
West Indies LLLWL
Watch out for...
Marlon Samuels was a bullish, confident presence in West Indies' middle order before his two-year ban for alleged involvement with illegal bookmakers. In a side shorn of its senior players, his comeback is certainly timely. He's played twice as many ODIs as his captain, Sammy, and though he hasn't played for West Indies since 2008 he'll have some idea of the intensity of international competition and will also lend some grit to the middle order. His sparkling performance during the Caribbean T20 in January, in which he was the leading run-getter with 253 runs at 63.25, will only add to his confidence in this format.
Mohammad Hafeez has been around the Pakistan team for almost eight years now, but it's only recently that he's really blossomed in his role as opening batsman and more-than-handy offspinner. He certainly played that part to perfection the last time Pakistan and West Indies met, nipping out two early wickets after being asked to open the bowling and then rocketing along to a run-a-ball 61 to complete a 10-wicket trouncing.
West Indies' squad has a bowler-heavy look to it, with a string of allrounders filling the lower-middle order. As such, the top order picks itself, and the main questions surround the composition of the bowling attack. Given the number of seamers in the squad, offspinner Ashley Nurse may find himself in line for a West Indies debut to add some variation, especially considering his good performances in the recent Twenty20s against Pakistan A. Likewise, left-arm seamer Krishmar Santokie was the leading West Indian wicket-taker in this year's Caribbean T20 and this could be the perfect time for him to step up to the next level.
West Indies (probable) 1 Andre Fletcher (wk), 2 Lendl Simmons, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Marlon Samuels, 5 Christopher Barnwell, 6 Andre Russell, 7 Darren Sammy (capt), 8 Devendra Bishoo, 9 Kemar Roach, 10 Ashley Nurse, 11 Krishmar Santokie
Pakistan's squad has a fairly settled look to it, but there are a number of youngsters waiting in the wings and several of them could be in for some game time. Mohammad Salman is the squad's only specialist keeper, while Hammad Azam could be tested in the allrounder slot vacated by Abdul Razzaq.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Taufeeq Umar, 3 Asad Shafiq, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq, 5 Umar Akmal, 6 Mohammad Salman (wk), 7 Hammad Azam, 8 Shahid Afridi (capt), 9 Junaid Khan, 10 Wahab Riaz, 11 Saeed Ajmal
Pitch and conditions
The Beausejour Stadium hosted several matches during last year's World Twenty20 and the pitch generally generated a good contest between bat and ball. Four games saw totals over 170, but Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Amir picked up 17 wickets between themselves at this ground during the course of Pakistan's campaign. The weather could well play a role on Thursday, as it'll be warm but partly cloudy, with a chance of rain.
Stats and trivia
- Surprisingly, this will be the first ever Twenty20 international between these two teams.
- Umar Akmal scored 125 runs at 62.50, including two half-centuries, in the course of four games at this ground during the World Twenty20 last year. The only Pakistan cricketer to have scored more runs here in Twenty20 internationals is his brother, Kamran.
- Saeed Ajmal picked up nine wickets at this ground during that campaign, at an average of 13.77, but won't have particularly fond memories of it as it was here that he received a mauling from Mike Hussey, who blasted 18 from his final over to secure a breathtaking victory.
"It's easier for us to do well with our home crowd and their support, and it gives an opportunity to bring ourselves back up the ladder - to dig deep, work hard, prove ourselves, and give back to our fans."
Richie Richardson, the West Indies manager, hopes the home crowds will spur the team on
"This is my first series at home and my first match happens to be in St Lucia, my homeland. We are rebuilding now and the slogan for the series is 'Wi [we] all in' so it's all all-out effort from everyone involved."
Darren Sammy looks ahead to the Twenty20 and the series against Pakistan
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo