Big picture

A dustbowl at Sabina Park, devoid of spectators owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, with rain forecast on all five days of the Test match, doesn't sound like the first step of any great journey. But it is at this venue that West Indies and Pakistan set off on a mission to put right all that went awry in the past two years, trying to ensure they're in the running to challenge New Zealand in their defence of the World Test Championship in two years' time.

West Indies, who finished second from bottom in the inaugural cycle, will be especially pleased their most recent series, a dismal 2-0 thrashing at South Africa's hands, didn't count towards the WTC. But if that's the form they continue to bring this time around, they're unlikely to push themselves any higher up the table. Head coach Phil Simmons admitted the quality of batting needed to improve by leaps and bounds, and was content to pass along the favourites tag to Pakistan for the series, one Babar Azam's side would rather not be burdened with.

That South Africa series might not be an entirely accurate depiction of West Indies' stage of development at this point, with a previous series against Sri Lanka highlighting some of their all-round quality, and a spirited win against Bangladesh spotlighting their depth. The batting has shown shades of the class that is required at this level, but several batters making contributions in the same innings has been an issue. Meanwhile, the pace-bowling attack, which could feature three out of Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph, Jayden Seales and Jason Holder, would trouble most sides, while Jomel Warrican and Roston Chase could find grip and turn on Sabina Park's surface.

For Pakistan, this remains, perhaps, the opportunity of a decade to make the WTC final. The way the fixtures have fallen for them this cycle, this two-match series is perhaps the most challenging away hurdle of all, with their only other tours taking place in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. With the confidence of a spectacular 2-1 win in the Caribbean four years ago under their belt, and coming into the series on the back of wins against South Africa and Zimbabwe, Azam's side will - and indeed, should - be disappointed if they fly back home without the trophy.

The middle order of Azhar Ali, Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Fawad Alam forms the spine of this batting line-up. With a stable opening pair in Pakistan harder to find than the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, the coming-of-age of Azam and Rizwan's glistening form gives the visitors the buffer they badly needed to protect the lower-middle order which - it must be said - chip in more with the runs than they recently used to. Yasir Shah's return also provides an intriguing subplot. The legspinner's value to the side has diminished considerably in the past 18 months or so, but enjoyed a standout tour in 2017, with 25 wickets at 21.96 in three Tests - ten clear of Mohammad Abbas and Gabriel.

At this rate, it might appear Pakistan have enough to overwhelm the hosts. But while it's never wise to underestimate Pakistan, overestimating them hasn't exactly proved a winning strategy either. Just tune in instead, would you?

Form guide

West Indies: LLDDW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Pakistan WWWWL

In the spotlight

Gabriel's ill-advised swipe off Shah, when he probably needed to see off just one more delivery, is the stuff of cricket legend now. But the man who despairingly watched from the other end has been slightly forgotten. Roston Chase's anguish in the moment might have been extreme, but the greater concern for the Bajan will be his inability to conjure up anything like that form in the four years that have passed since. The leading run scorer of that series, Chase's batting average soared to 48.53 in a career that had just begun to glimmer. That consistency, however, has proved elusive, with just two further three-figure scores in 53 innings since, and the average has plummeted to 29. If anyone needs a career reboot, it is him, and with Pakistan back in his neck of the woods, this could be his opportunity.

Abid Ali was fortunate to be retained for Pakistan's two-match series in Zimbabwe after a wretched run of form saw him average just 17.71 since his debut series. Once given the chance, however, he cashed in with aplomb, with a half-century and an unbeaten double-hundred, consolidating his position as opener. However, West Indies might look at his overall Test record, and an inexperienced Imran Butt alongside him, and wonder if there's a fragility right at the top of the Pakistan batting order. With Abid out to prove his runs in Harare signalled a return to form and not just "stat-padding" against a weaker opponent, the 33-year old against a formidable West Indian bowling line-up is set to be a match-up to keep an eye on.

Team news

West Indies have announced their 13* for the Test match, with Nkrumah Bonner back in the squad after missing the second Test against South Africa with a concussion. Shai Hope could move back to the top order to allow Bonner into his preferred slot at No. 3, which would mean Kieran Powell misses out. Jomel Warrican is the only specialist spinner in the squad, with Rahkeem Cornwall among the travelling reserves. Warrican could be in a three-man fight with Alzarri Joseph and Jayden Seales for two bowling slots.

West Indies (possible): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite (capt), 2 Shai Hope, 3 Nkrumah Bonner, 4 Roston Chase, 5 Kyle Mayers, 6 Jermaine Blackwood, 7 Joshua Da Silva (wk), 8 Jason Holder, 9 Kemar Roach, 10 and 11 two out of Alzarri Joseph, Jayden Seales and Jomel Warrican.

Pakistan's recent success in West Indies with spin bowling might tempt them to play two spinners, although that would squeeze out Faheem Ashraf, whose lower order runs were vital against South Africa

Pakistan: (probable): 1 Abid Ali 2 Imran Butt 3 Azhar Ali 4 Babar Azam (capt) 5 Fawad Alam 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 7 Faheem Ashraf/Nauman Ali 7 Hasan Ali 9 Yasir Shah 10 Mohammad Abbas 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi

Pitch and conditions

Scattered showers are forecast throughout the Test match in Kingston, so significant interruptions would not be surprising.

Sabina Park has tended to play host to fair contests between bat and ball, if a little on the slower side over recent years. When Pakistan last played here in 2017, Yasir Shah was the Player of the Match, taking eight wickets.

Stats and trivia

  • Sabina Park played host to the second shortest Test match in history, when the umpires called off a game against England in 1998 after just 10.1 overs owing to a dangerous pitch.
  • Roston Chase needs 57 runs to reach 2000 Test runs
  • West Indies have not defeated Pakistan at Sabina Park since 1977, with the teams having split four Test matches down the middle. Pakistan's victories came in 2005 and 2017.
    • Quotes

        "Jamaican pitches provide a good challenge to the batters, hence our batters need to come to the party and display their true potential and calibre in these two Tests"
        Pakistan captain Babar Azam prioritises runs on the board

        *August 12, GMT 0800 The piece was updated following the announcement of West Indies' 13 for the Test match.

        Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000