West Indies v Pakistan, 1st Test, Providence May 12, 2011

Two fallen sides battle

There's no reason, though, to reconcile ourselves to the prospect of a dull series because a duel between flawed sides can be as pleasing to watch as one between high-quality sides

What a contest this once was, the greatest side ever seen by some, up against the greatest sides produced by Pakistan. Over three series, from the mid-80s onwards, not one inch was given by some of the greatest cricketers the game has seen, led by the two greatest cricketers the game has seen. In Guyana on Thursday, Misbah-ul-Haq and Darren Sammy will lead their sides out, not one truly great name among the 22. No disrespect to either but that is some comedown.

It is pointless, if not harmful of course, to dwell upon the past too much but one reason Pakistanis and West Indians do so is because there has been consistently so little to look forward to in the future. Both teams have forever been stuck in the process of rebuilding and yet, years and years after their peaks, they lie sixth and seventh in a nine-team sport; in a league this would be a mighty relegation battle.

In those very circumstances they meet again, rebuilding, blooding youth, looking ahead, nervous not at the size of the project ahead of them, but at its fragility and their tenuous places within it. Favourites is too strong a word for it but Pakistan come in with better recent form, if better was to mean less bad. West Indies have won one of their last 19 Test series, Pakistan one of their last 11. That one was their last assignment, in New Zealand, which for Test wins is as close as you can get to a sure thing for Pakistan.

A first-ever Test series win in the Caribbean - you almost wish they could do it in better circumstances - is nevertheless a realistic aim. Under Misbah, Pakistan has sometimes felt an inherently defensive side though given the resources at his disposal, who is to blame him? And accounting for the circumstances in which he took over, perhaps an on-field style is only as important as off-field stability and clarity.

Still there are things to look forward to. With Younis Khan out, an entirely new middle order is unveiled, in far more conducive environment than when Pakistan last tried it, in an overcast England last summer. In earnest the post Inzamam-Yousuf-Younis era begins now and Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, and Umar Akmal - resolute, smart and explosive - are promising candidates.

Elsewhere, a post-Kamran Akmal era may also be beginning - though you never know when he might return so in denial have managements been to his deficiencies. Mohammad Salman has impressed behind the stumps, his glovework as quiet and unnoticed as his chatter is loud and repetitive. In a busy-ish year ahead, with Tests against Sri Lanka and England, Adnan Akmal - unjustly dropped - will remain in contention as will, it is hoped, Sarfraz Ahmed whose energy and general cheeriness ought to be recognized and rewarded.

But what quality cricket there will be in this series will come from the bowling. The day Pakistan stop producing quality fast bowlers will be the real day of mourning in this country; in Umar Gul, Tanvir Ahmed and especially Wahab Riaz, they are well-served. Given his successes in the ODI series and the trouble he caused the West Indies, Saeed Ajmal will surely have a role.

For once though, the hosts - for this task at least - have at their disposal, a potentially dangerous attack too. If they can find a way and the will to play Kemar Roach, Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul and Divendra Bishoo - and it is Sammy's presence as an allrounder that spoils this possibility - they could prosper. Edwards has torpedoed a stronger Pakistan before, in 2005, and both Roach and Rampaul are wicket-taking bowlers.

It is Devendra Bishoo, that wonderfully ballsy, smart and gifted legspinner who must be watched, if for no other reason than that he is the first genuinely attacking spinner the hosts have had in a while. He has a touch about him, an ability to bring about moments and on suitable surfaces, can really break a ball

But it is Bishoo, that wonderfully ballsy, smart and gifted legspinner who must be watched, if for no other reason than that he is the first genuinely attacking spinner the hosts have had in a while. He has a touch about him, an ability to bring about moments and on suitable surfaces, can really break a ball. Frankly Pakistan are awful against most kinds of spin and only Misbah seemed to play him with any comfort. His tormenting of Salman in the third ODI was more reflective of how Pakistan struggled against him; beware the zippy flipper that eventually did for Salman in that game.

Otherwise West Indies' rebuilding has a wonkier feel to it than Pakistan's. Their administrative disputes with players haven't attracted as much attention as the ones in Pakistan, but they are probably of greater harm, because they don't produce as much talent to replace those players as Pakistan tends to. The one with Shivnarine Chanderpaul looks the pettiest of a long list of scraps between WICB and WIPA, though he should at least be a part of the side now. Much - perhaps too much - will still be expected from him, that bewildering underperformer Ramnaresh Sarwan and the stodgy Brendan Nash. If Darren Bravo relieves any of that burden, it will be an attractive bonus.

There's no reason, though, to reconcile ourselves to the prospect of a dull series. A battle between flawed sides compete can be as pleasing to watch as one between high-quality sides. In one aspect at least the West Indies are ahead. With the release of 'Fire in Babylon' they have at least a vivid documentation of their greatest years, a tribute to history. The fall has been steep enough for the film to be heavy with resonance. Pakistan haven't regressed as sharply from their peak years but any film of their best years will be at least as compelling a watch. We can only hope.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Webster on May 13, 2011, 8:59 GMT

    @ cric_fanatic , Pak were far better then the minnows India in 80s and 90s.

  • Dummy4 on May 13, 2011, 8:15 GMT

    @nlambda LOL.We can't miss Tendulkar in any of the Cricinfo's articles.Damn attention seeker we are!@Aina Maria Waseem Thanks for taking the bait of Mr.Nlambda.Did Pakistan got the same ESPN feed as India got during the 2011 WC?You should be proud of surviving Mr Sidhu's match analysis.

  • Jay on May 13, 2011, 6:39 GMT

    Agreed, Pakistan is no more a major team. But can we say that Pakistan team selected in the last few years was the best playing eleven.

    For one reason or other PCB has failed to put best playing eleven to contribute to the current situation.

  • Dummy4 on May 13, 2011, 6:05 GMT

    i agree with Jawad...this indian side IS presenting mediocrity (let's rephrase this to moderate class) as greatness! They do indeed have a great, world class batting line up (though admittedly without Sehwag, Laxmen and Tendulkar, all they have is Yuvraj who was very much on the sidelines until the WC and Gambhir, who only wags his tail infront of Pakistan in most cases). However, their balling is abysmal. I believe the only meaningful win the Indian side had in the WC was against Australia. Against Pakistan, they won because they handled 'pressure' better, and because average players like Gambhir and Nehra usually do well against Pakistan. Against SL they won because the former made 4 inexplicable changes to its side. Simple. You cant be a great side with that kind of a bowling attach! A bowling attack that is built around an average player like Zaheer Khan, and perhaps the world's most overrated spinner (Harbajan)!

  • P Subramani on May 13, 2011, 5:41 GMT

    Bangladesh beat nearly the same West Indies team in 2009 in a clean sweep. So I think Pakistan should, beat West Indies. If they indeed do, it is no reflection on the greatness of the Pakistan team of the 80s. They were almost as good as the best then. Today Pakistan is up against a potentially resurgent West Indies team. But they do not have an inspirational captain. Maybe Ganga can be that.

  • Dummy4 on May 13, 2011, 5:34 GMT

    @nlambda: Don't deceive yourself. Sachin had our bad fielding to thank for his 85 at the worldcup.Even his fans ought to acknowledge it was his ugliest innings. The pakistani spinners were quite capable in handling the best players of spin in the world, in navjot siddhu's words "ajmal was the da vinci code". But I agree that the Indian batsmen would have definitely performed better than the west indians, 300 on day one instead of 209 perhaps... And sir, WE are never far from YOUR thoughts. This is a pakistan-related article afterall.

  • Dummy4 on May 13, 2011, 5:25 GMT

    @cric_fanatics: I don't remember any claim that Pakistan were a top side. That doesn't mean they were always 6th rankers. Don't at-least belittle the west indies of the 80s by calling the only side that challenged them mediocre (I don't expect you to respect the great Imran Khan and his side anyway). Pakistan was 2nd, 3rd or 4th for quite some time post 2003 I remember. During that time Pakistan was always ahead of India in rankings, so I daresay, India must be even worse to have been below us.

  • Basil on May 13, 2011, 3:40 GMT

    In hindsight Windies needs a 2nd frontline spinner for this Test. Smith should have made way for a spinning all-rounder in Imran Khan. Bravo opens with Simmons. Khan at 6. This makes 3 seamers and 2 spinners for this pitch.

  • Narine on May 13, 2011, 2:13 GMT

    Oh yes as you all saw for yourselves the level of stupidity that is goin on in WI cricket today, Simmons, Bravo, Sarwan, Chanders all applied them selves. Well Sammy, Smith and Baugh I AM NOT SURPRISED BY THEIR SHOT SELECTION, they continue to get pick on a team which is struggling to bat a full day.

  • Rishi on May 13, 2011, 1:38 GMT

    how much more do we have to take....... Mr Butts please resign your position so that we could have Darren Ganga as captain, dinesh ramdin as keeper and Rampaul Roach, Fidel and Bishoo as our bowlers with Marlon Samuels in the middle, imagine de man score a double century and you leave him out because we in guyana. And to Sammy, its no fault of yours but this is a big man job

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