West Indies' extended warm-up for the T20 World Cup continues apace, with Pakistan the latest side the defending champions will host ahead of the global event later this year. While there might be legitimate concern around how relevant T20 cricket in the Caribbean is to a T20 World Cup on the other side of the planet in the UAE, you can't really argue West Indies will go into it undercooked.
A slightly below-par series in Grenada saw South Africa give the home side a bloody nose and walk away with the trophy, but Nicholas Pooran's men bounced back strongly in St Lucia to hammer Australia 4-1 and get themselves back on track. Part of the excitement around West Indies stems from the return of most of their key players that have, for one reason or another, been unavailable to them for the large parts of the previous decade. With Dwayne Bravo, Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard all back in the maroon, West Indies are perhaps the most intimidating side on paper, and will be the most closely watched.
Certainly more so than Pakistan, who fly to Barbados off the back of a 2-1 series reverse in England. It's a measure of how much expectations have been managed in Pakistan that that result was viewed as something of an over-performance, so heavily unfancied was Babar Azam's side against England. Things don't get much easier, though, even if Pakistan have a perfect series record against West Indies, because the side they face bears little resemblance, both in personnel and intensity, to the one they beat on these shores in 2017.
Still, that positive head-to-head means Pakistan are unlikely to fear the hosts going into this Covid-shortened series. Three T20Is in England ensure they don't come in rusty against a well-oiled West Indian machine, and with the CPL among the more popular overseas T20I competitions for Pakistan players, this land carries little of the unfamiliarity it might have done in previous years. These two sides are very different from each other, both in style and T20 philosophy, and that contrast should make for an absorbing four games over the next week.
(last five completed matches, most recent first) West Indies WLWWW Pakistan LWLWW
In the spotlight
Is the greatest batsman in T20I history now a liability for West Indies? Chris Gayle is difficult to omit whenever he makes himself available, the 41-year old now appears to be a pale shadow of the man who carried his side's T20I hopes for a decade and a half. No longer a basher of the ball from the outset, Gayle likes to take his time settling in before unleashing, except more often than not, the opposition get rid of him before that actually happens.
In 12 T20Is this year he averages under 18 with a strike rate of 120.88, down from a career figure of 140.16. If he's looking to play himself in, he doesn't do much of that either; just two of these 12 innings have seen him cross 21. The PSL is the league he's struggled in more than any other, so it isn't like Pakistan's bowlers don't know how to keep Gayle quiet either. Expect an engaging battle.
If there's one Pakistani player who might feel at home in the West Indies side, it's Hasan Ali. Not that there aren't other members of the visiting squad good enough to get into a West Indies team, but there's something delightfully Caribbean about Hasan's charismatic personality and outgoing disposition. There's a swagger about him that should endear him to any crowds allowed to attend.
It isn't just style, though; there's substance to go with it. He missed the first two T20Is against England, but played crucial parts with both bat and ball in the thriller at Old Trafford. His nascent rise as perhaps Pakistan's most valuable power hitter down the order is perfectly timed, coming as it does ahead of a series in the nation that has revolutionised the power game in the shortest format.
Kieron Pollard is slated to captain West Indies, but did not play the T20Is against Australia, with Pooran standing in.
West Indies (possible): 1 Lendl Simmons, 2 Evin Lewis, 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Shimron Hetmyer, 5 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Kieron Pollard (capt)/Fabian Allen, 8 Dwayne Bravo, 9 Hayden Walsh, 10 Obed McCoy, 11 Fidel Edwards.
Misbah-ul-Haq admitted after the England series Pakistan weren't making much headway in working out how to resolve their middle-order issues. That, arguably, is what series like these are for, so expect some tinkering over the next few games.
Pakistan (possible): 1 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 2 Babar Azam (capt), 3 Fakhar Zaman, 4 Sohaib Maqsood, 5 Mohammad Hafeez/Sharjeel Khan, 6 Azam Khan, 7 Shadab Khan/Usman Qadir, 8 Imad Wasim, 9 Hasan Ali, 10 Mohammad Hasnain, 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Pitch and conditions
Showers are expected for the late morning in Barbados, around the time the game starts. A shortened contest likely benefits the big-hitting West Indies, but there are enough dry spells tomorrow to perhaps get a full contest in.
The Kensington Oval isn't the highest-scoring T20I ground, but with no T20I played here for four years, predicting how the pitch might turn out is something of a fool's errand.
Stats and trivia
This will be just the fourth four-match T20I series between two Full Member nations. One of the others also involved these two sides, when Pakistan beat West Indies 3-1 in 2017. The most recent such series took place in April, when Pakistan triumphed 3-1 in South Africa.
The last T20I in Barbados took place in 2017. It was also a West Indies-Pakistan game, a low-scoring contest with Pakistan chasing 113 and winning by six wickets.
"All those bad mistakes we committed in England, we don't want to repeat them. We discussed them and we are taking forward all the learning curves. Batting and bowling is one thing but we are putting extra, a lot of time into fielding in practice. This is an important series in a way that we will check out different combinations and check our bench strength." Pakistan captain Babar Azam