Pakistan's chance to create history
Match FactsMay 12-16, Providence, Guyana
Start time 1000 (1400 GMT)
The Big Picture
We've been starved of Test cricket for nearly four months now. Ever since Pakistan drew in Wellington, to win the series against New Zealand, there's been a glut of limited-over matches - the World Cup, Australia in Bangladesh, the IPL and Pakistan in the West Indies. Re-adjusting attention spans to the pace of five-day cricket might take a while, for both players and us. It is in Guyana, at the other end of the cricket universe from where they last played, that Pakistan resume the Test calendar, in pursuit of a success they've never achieved before.
Pakistan have never won a Test series in the West Indies. They've beaten them at home and at neutral venues (UAE in 2001-02), but in six trips to the Caribbean, Pakistan have lost four series and drawn two. The most memorable of those battles was in 1987-88, when Imran Khan's team held its own against the champion side Viv Richards inherited from Clive Lloyd in three monumental Tests. One-all it finished. The last two were thrillers. Unfortunately, Pakistan and West Indies have regressed since that watershed tour, and it would be fanciful to expect Misbah-ul-Haq and Darren Sammy's teams to produce entertainment of comparable quality.
Whether Pakistan or West Indies are in greater disorder could make for protracted debate. About ten months ago, it would have been Pakistan. Their captain (Shahid Afridi) jumped ship and retired from Tests, while his successor (Salman Butt) and their two best fast bowlers (Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer) were embroiled in a spot-fixing scandal and then banned by the ICC. From the cold the selectors recalled Misbah and then made him captain. His chalice, however, hasn't been poisoned and Pakistan have been uncontroversial under his leadership. They also drew against South Africa and won in New Zealand. Pakistan, incredibly, appear well settled.
It is West Indies who appear to be in turmoil. Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard turned down board contracts, preferring to remain unshackled to pursue lucrative assignments. And ever since West Indies were eliminated from the World Cup, by Pakistan, there's been a slanging match between the WICB on one side, and the WIPA and several players on the other, over how cricket is run in the region and how cricketers are treated by administrators. The upshot of the series of events is that West Indies will play the Test series against Pakistan without Gayle and Bravo, two players who would have walked into the starting XIs. Also missing is fast bowler Jerome Taylor, who's playing in the IPL.
West Indies have won only three series since Sri Lanka visited in 2003. Two of those were against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Their only success against a top side was the 1-0 result against England in 2009, a victory that was due to a searing spell from the now-absent Taylor.
Form guide(most recent first)
West Indies: DDDLD
Watch out for...
Two local lads, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Devendra Bishoo. Chanderpaul was dropped from the ODI series against Pakistan, exchanged lengthy letters with the WICB, and is now back for the Tests. He had made unflattering claims about how the team management kept telling him how to bat, even during his innings, and then subjected him to an interrogation afterwards. He's going to be playing in the same set up, so watch out for men with drinks running frequently to the middle while Chanderpaul is batting. His performances, however, will be critical in an inexperienced batting order.
While Chanderpaul has played 129 Tests, Bishoo is yet to play one, and will most certainly make his debut at Providence. He was a refreshing revelation during the World Cup and his legbreaks and googlies were the only thing that brought West Indies wickets (apart from a run-out) in the first two ODIs against Pakistan. He will be the solitary spinner in the XI, so is shouldering a large responsibility for someone so raw.
There have been questions over Darren Sammy's place in the limited-overs team - he's the third seam-bowling allrounder along with Bravo and Pollard - and whether he would win a spot by merit if he wasn't captain. Bravo is playing the IPL, so Sammy is the only allrounder in the Test squad, but he will be under pressure to show he belongs in a format that demands greater skills than the shorter versions do. At present, Sammy averages 16.72 with the bat and 31 with the ball, which isn't really good enough.
Azhar Ali is an extremely different batsman compared to Umar Akmal, who has been Pakistan's next big thing for a while now, but no less valuable in this series. While Akmal oozes aggression and indiscretion, Ali is patient. He's made six half-centuries in 19 innings and is searching for his maiden hundred. In the absence of Younis Khan, Ali's responsibility will be to provide stability in the middle order.
The absence of Gayle will give Lendl Simmons his first shot at Tests since May 2009 at the top of the order. The question, however, is whether West Indies will play six specialist batsman or four specialist bowlers. If they play six batsmen, with Carlton Baugh as wicketkeeper, then Sammy will have to be the fourth bowler, which leaves their attack light. If they play all three quicks - Roach, Rampaul and Edwards - and Bishoo, at the expense of a specialist batsman, then Baugh will have to bat at No. 6, which is a spot too high for him. A stronger bowling side will give them a better chance of winning the Test though.
West Indies (probable): 1 Devon Smith, 2 Lendl Simmons, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 5 Brendan Nash, 6 Carlton Baugh (wk), 7 Darren Sammy (capt), 8 Ravi Rampaul, 9 Fidel Edwards, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Devendra Bishoo.
Pakistan's line-up is more balanced than West Indies' but they have to make up for the absence of Younis, who flew home because of the death of his brother. It gives Akmal another shot at securing a Test spot, after his tendency to self-destruct cost him his middle-order berth.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Mohammad Hafeez, 2 Taufeeq Umar, 3 Azhar Ali, 4 Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), 5 Asad Shafiq, 6 Umar Akmal, 7 Mohammad Salman (wk), 8 Tanvir Ahmed, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Wahab Riaz, 11 Saeed Ajmal.
Pitch and conditions
The Providence Stadium in Guyana has hosted just one Test before this, between West Indies and Sri Lanka in 2008. It finished in a win for the visitors after they batted first. In conditions that have traditionally aided spin, West Indies have gone in with a pace-heavy squad for the first Test, hinting there might be something extra for the seamers. The weather's a bit of a worry, with scattered thunderstorms forecast.
Stats and trivia
- Since 2007, West Indies have averaged 32 per wicket while batting at home, and taken wickets at 42 apiece while bowling. Pakistan have averaged 27 with the bat in away Tests and 35 with the ball.
- Chanderpaul has scored 2327 runs - the most of West Indies since 2007 - at an average of 68. Misbah has been Pakistan's best, scoring 1339 at an average of 54.
- Umar Gul is Pakistan's highest wicket-taker since 2007, with 64 at an average of 37. Edwards is West Indies' best, with 59 wickets at an average of 34.
"I have confidence in Shivnarine Chanderpaul. He has been around cricket for a long time, he has been a professional, and I think he's gonna go back in there and he's gonna play the game how he's supposed to play it."
Clyde Butts, chairman of the West Indies selection panel, on a man who's been in the news of late.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo