West Indies eye rare series win
Match FactsMay 20-24, Basseterre, St. Kitts
Start time 1000 (1400 GMT)
The Big Picture
Amid all the criticism heaped on West Indies cricket in recent years, perhaps the sharpest has centred on the lack of resolve shown by their players who have appeared diffident, in contrast to the weight of the great tradition they bear. Too many times, dominating positions have been frittered away, conveying the impression that they seemingly do not care to gain ground. The hurt is magnified, given that that the West Indies is the only place outside the sub-continent where cricket still appears to be much more than just a game.
That is why the win in the first Test against Pakistan - the first in a Test in almost two years - should ideally be seen as much more than just another win. What was equally heartening to see was what led to that win. The fight shown by the lower order, where the last two wickets added in excess of 50 runs in both innings in a low-scoring game where the winning margin was 40. Above all, the fight displayed by Darren Sammy who, with a Man of the Match performance, showed that he might also have the skills to be a contributing player at Test level in addition to being a willing captain.
All of which should be celebrated much more than a win, because, in isolation, the victory itself might just prove to be a one-off considering the various ills plaguing West Indies cricket. The final game in yet another two-Test series that has promised so much will give a stronger indication of whether the earlier win was more than just that. If Sammy does manage to pull off another victory, he would have bought time from the doubters. Even a draw will help, but a loss will lead to increasing calls of 'we told you so'.
To consolidate on their success in the first Test, West Indies will need to address their serious vulnerability while facing spin, especially against Saeed Ajmal. When your opener (Devon Smith) fails to last even an over against the opposition's part-time offspinner in Tests (Mohammad Hafeez), it reflects poorly on the skillsets of those playing at the highest level. The surface at Warner Park, though, should suit West Indies much more than the vicious turner at Providence that turned survival against quality spin into a lottery, one in which the hosts didn't enjoy much luck.
Brittle batting cost Pakistan the first Test, and considering that none of the top six has played more than 30 Tests, it is not a problem that is going to go away soon, especially in the absence of Younis Khan. The opening partnership has been worryingly unproductive; in 40 previous innings, only three times has it produced more than 100 runs and of the six pairs tried out, none have averaged more than 40 per innings. No wonder that Pakistan have struggled to put up totals in the region of 350-400, which hasn't allowed their strong bowling attack the kind of leeway it deserves.
As in the case of West Indies though, Pakistan should also find the usually flatter track at Warner Park much more conducive, and hope that their batting stands up, for once, so that they can at least hope to square the series. Otherwise, West Indies will overtake them in the ICC Test rankings.
Form guide(most recent first)
West Indies: WDDDL
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Devendra Bishoo came close to becoming only the third West Indies spinner to take a five-for on Test debut. He displayed remarkable control over variety for someone playing the role of the sole specialist spinner in only his first Test. He also lasted almost 100 deliveries with the bat, showing glimpses of a reasonably tight technique for a No.11, and a strong character. West Indies cricket is in desperate need of all these qualities, and from initial impressions, Bishoo seems to have the potential.
Such is the lot of Darren Sammy that in every game that he leads his side, whatever he does or doesn't will be analysed and dissected to death. Why did he bring himself on to bowl, why didn't he bring himself on to bowl, why did he do what he did, why didn't he do what he didn't. Amid a perpetual one-sided trial, it was nice to see him being applauded by his team-mates after getting the key wicket of Umar Akmal that virtually sealed the win. In the end, their support and confidence matters the most and Sammy has another opportunity starting tomorrow to earn more of it.
Umar Akmal is the next big hope of Pakistan batting. He is also the current big frustration. A batsman so prodigiously talented has got to have more than a prolonged streak of youthful indulgence to throw away so many potential match-winning innings. Not for the first time in his career, Akmal played a wild pull to get out in the first innings in Providence, when he was not having any problems on a pitch that others had found unplayable. How many false dawns will Pakistan cricket have to endure before Akmal's sun truly rises?
After getting tormented by Hafeez for quite some time now, Smith has been left out of the 13-man squad and a debut for young Barbados opener Kraigg Brathwaite looks to be in order. Ravi Rampaul's stirring performance in Providence has ensured that he will continue to keep Fidel Edwards out. There should not be any other change, unless West Indies decide to go in with five bowlers on the traditionally placid Warner Park surface.
West Indies (probable): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite, 2 Lendl Simmons, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Brendan Nash, 7 Carlton Baugh (wk), 8 Darren Sammy (capt), 9 Ravi Rampaul, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Devendra Bishoo
Given that the pitch is not expected to aid spin much, Pakistan could consider bringing in one of Tanvir Ahmed or Junaid Khan in place of Abdur Rehman. Then again, West Indies' cluelessness against the slower men might just tempt them to stick with two specialist spinners.
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 Abdur Rehman / Tanvir Ahmed, 9 Umar Gul, 10 Wahab Riaz, 11 Saeed Ajmal
Pitch and conditions
Two previous Tests at Warner Park have produced high-scoring draws. Even South Africa, who won everything else on their trip to the Caribbean last year, could not bowl West Indies out twice on the flat surface. West Indies would not like to hand Pakistan another turner that suits Ajmal and Co, and reports suggest that the surface will be quite hard, with dry grass rolled in to bind it together. The weather is forecast to be quite cloudy over the next few days, and that could only please the West Indies seamers.
Stats and trivia
- 12 of Umar Akmal's 27 Test innings have ended between 20 and 60
- Saeed Ajmal's 11 for 111 in the first Test was his maiden ten-wicket haul
- West Indies have won only two Test series in the past seven years
"We obviously have got a very strong seam attack and they've obviously got a very strong spin attack. We are hoping that we can have a surface that is more helpful to our seam attack, one that gives us an advantage."
West Indies coach Ottis Gibson makes it clear what kind of pitch he would want to have
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo