Floundering sides seek end to misery
March 26, 2017
Start time 1230 local (1630 GMT)
West Indies and Pakistan have only played four completed T20 internationals since last year's World T20, a number they are set to double in this series. The sample might not seem like much to go on, but the scale of their contrasting fortunes - Pakistan haven't lost any while West Indies have only one win - promises an intriguing narrative.
Neither side has played a T20I since Pakistan beat West Indies 3-0 in the UAE last year. Both sides, however, are going through wretched runs of form, combining to win just two of their 17 games since then.
What might differentiate the teams is the mood heading into this tour. While reasons for cheer in West Indies cricket are scarce at the moment, Pakistan are in buoyant spirits after a successful Pakistan Super League, the final of which was held at a packed Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, foreign players and all. There are no less than five players in Pakistan's squad who directly owe their inclusion to impressive performances in the PSL this season, including Kamran Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad. The dampener is the absence of explosive opener Sharjeel Khan, provisionally suspended in the wake of the corruption scandal that engulfed the PSL.
West Indies' squad is an analyst's nightmare, with teams varying wildly from one series to the next. The team that played their last T20I, for example, included just two players from the side that won them the World T20 less than six months prior to that. However, the management has brought back some T20 stars for this series, with Lendl Simmons and Samuel Badree notable returnees. With Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Carlos Brathwaite and Marlon Samuels all in, this appears to be as strong a squad as West Indies could have hoped to assemble.
West Indies: LLLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Carlos Brathwaite has yet to fire since being named West Indies' T20I captain in the aftermath of that manic World T20 final against England. The four times he's batted since, he has made 14, 18, 0 and 8. It could be argued he's too good a power hitter not to bat higher up the order, but the West Indies side is replete with explosive batsmen, and if he is to make his mark, it may end up being lower down. With the first T20I in his hometown of Barbados, Brathwaite might just get the extra motivation he needs.
Babar Azam is something of a peculiarity among Pakistan batsmen, in that he has been remarkably consistent. He has scored four hundreds in his last eight ODI games. What he could improve on is converting good T20 starts into big scores, and with him likely to open the batting in the absence of Khalid Latif and Sharjeel Khan, this is an ideal opportunity.
West Indies could go into this match with a healthy blend of youth and experience. The WICB announced on the eve of the first match that Andre Fletcher, Jonathan Carter and Veerasammy Permaul had been released from the original 16-man squad for the first two matches. Fletcher's absence means the in-form Chadwick Walton, who scored a century against the English tourists in a 50-over warm-up match last month, will most likely take over the gloves and open the batting with Evin Lewis.
West Indies (probable): 1 Chadwick Walton (wk), 2 Evin Lewis, 3 Marlon Samuels, 4 Lendl Simmons, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Jason Mohammed, 7 Carlos Brathwaite (capt), 8 Sunil Narine, 9 Jason Holder, 10 Samuel Badree, 11 Jerome Taylor
It remains to be seen how many of the young players, who broke through during the PSL, end up being included. The older returnees - Kamran Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad - are expected to slot back in straightaway. With Hasan Ali, Rumman Raees, Wahab Riaz, Usman Khan and Sohail Tanvir all part of the squad, Pakistan's fast bowling looks ominous.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Ahmed Shehzad, 2 Babar Azam, 3 Mohammad Hafeez, 4 Kamran Akmal, 5 Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), 6 Shoaib Malik, 7 Imad Wasim, 8 Sohail Tanvir, 9 Rumman Raees, 10 Hasan Ali, 11 Wahab Riaz
Pitch and conditions
The Kensington Oval surface has regularly produced high-scoring T20 internationals. All completed CPL games last season produced at least one total above 170. There is a slight chance of rain in the afternoon, although it is not expected to prevent a full contest.
Stats and trivia
- The Kensington Oval is yet to see a score above 200. In the 16 T20 internationals held here, the highest total was Sri Lanka's 195 for 3 during the World T20 in 2010
- Kamran Akmal has not played a T20 international since the World T20 in 2014. His last game was also against West Indies. He was dismissed for 0 as Pakistan lost by 84 runs - their third-heaviest defeat in T20Is.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000