West Indies search for answers
West Indies face their last opportunity to take any silverware from another depressing season when the two-Test series against Pakistan starts in Barbados, tomorrow. Brian Lara has been recalled, but this West Indies team has regressed so badly since the start of the Test series against South Africa, that even his ability to produce the miraculous is unlikely to be enough.
Eight one-day defeats in a row has left West Indies a dispirited group of players - despite all the positive spin by Bennett King and the backroom staff - and the processes which are supposed to have been put in place have gone in one ear and out the other.
The players, even the more experienced ones such as Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan, continue to make basic mistakes, while Shivnarine Chanderpaul cuts a desolate figure as captain. During the ODIs against Pakistan all his post-match interviews were identical - blaming the batting but without having much idea about how to solve it.
The return to Test cricket will allow the top-order to forget about how quickly they are scoring and go back to building an innings. Along with Lara's recall, Devon Smith is also back in the Test fold. He played against South Africa in Guyana but was then dropped once the players involved in the contracts dispute returned.
Selecting a West Indies side is like trying to fit square pegs into round holes. The logical step - if there is such a thing in West Indies cricket - would be for Smith to open with Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds to continue in the middle-order, where he finished the one-day series.
Five front-line seamers have been named in the squad, with just three set to make the final XI, to be supported by Dwayne Bravo's skiddy medium-pace. It would be pointless to include Ian Bradshaw in a Test squad, for the first time after 30 ODIs, if he isn't to play, and his left-arm seamers will add some valuable consistency. West Indies' inability to dismiss teams this season has shown that trying to blast out opponents is futile, so Corey Collymore is a better bet to frustrate the naturally attacking Pakistan batting order.
Fidel Edwards always gives 100% and should edge out Daren Powell, who for all his hustle and bustle has not produced the goods, and Reon King, who is a confidence bowler - without any confidence.
Pakistan, on the other hand, are going into the Test with their confidence sky-high. However, they will be without Inzamam-ul-Haq, as he serves his one-Test ban for showing dissent against India at Bangalore. Younis Khan, who led Pakistan in the final ODI when Inzamam was injured, will captain a Test for the first time.
Inzamam's absence creates a vacancy in the middle-order, which will give Bazid Khan the opportunity of a Test debut following his 66 in the final ODI in St Lucia. If Bazid is selected he will become the third generation of his family to play Test cricket. His grandfather, Jahangir Khan, played four Tests for India in the 1930s and his father, Majid Khan, played 63 Tests for Pakistan, captaining three of them before becoming an administrator.
Pakistan's varied bowling caused plenty of problems during the one-day games, the spinners, in particular, tying the West Indies middle-order in knots. Danish Kaneria did not get a game in the one-day series but is rapidly becoming the second best legspinner in the world, behind Shane Warne, and has an excellent googly to use against West Indies' clutch of left-handers.
Shahid Afridi will provide support in the spin-bowling department, while the increasingly impressive Rana Naved-ul-Hasan will spearhead the new-ball attack. With Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami missing through injury the pace attack does not look especially threatening, but the West Indies top-order will underestimate Naved at their peril.
Pakistan are a side moving forward rapidly, while West Indies are going in reverse just as quickly. This Test will be the last game staged at Kensington Oval before it is demolished and rebuilt for the World Cup. Sadly, their can be no such quick fix for the West Indies but there is no time like the present to start the rebuilding.
Update: Dwayne Bravo and Ian Bradshaw are unlikely to play in the Test. Click here for more.
West Indies (probable) 1 Chris Gayle 2 Devon Smith 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Brian Lara, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul (capt), 6 Wavell Hinds, 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Courtney Browne (wkt), 9 Ian Bradshaw, 10 Fidel Edwards, 11 Corey Collymore.
Pakistan (probable) 1 Yasir Hameed, Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan (capt) 4 Yousuf Youhana 5 Asim Kamal 6 Bazid Khan 7 Abdul Razzaq 8 Kamran Akmal 9 Rana Naved-ul-Hasan 10 Danish Kaneria 11 Shabbir Ahmed.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo.