It hasn't been the best of tours for West Indies: first they were forced to leave out seven first-choice players due to a combination of workload management, injuries and personal reasons; that followed their regular white-ball captain's withdrawal due to a hamstring issue; after all that, three members of their touring party tested Covid-positive, thus ruling them out of the T20Is. They now find themselves 2-0 down and facing a 3-0 sweep.
There have been glimpses of the possible damage even a weakened West Indies can cause on the current tour already, not least when they had Pakistan at 141 for 7 after 18 overs, and then had eight wickets in the shed with 88 to get in just over nine overs during the second T20I
on Tuesday. But they ended up conceding 172 as Shadab Khan, an able but not generally threatening No. 8, got into them with the bat; they eventually fell short of the target by nine runs despite a spirited fight by their own No. 7 Romario Shepherd. All that said and done, it is another opportunity for a fresh and untested unit to not only prove they can perform but also eye on a permanent place in West Indies' starting XI.
Pakistan, on the other hand, seem to be the side in form in the shortest format. They have won ten out of their last 11 T20Is - including a 3-0 sweep of Bangladesh
last month after the T20 World Cup - and six out of their last seven bilateral T20I series, including the ongoing one. Their openers have developed a dominant union, their middle order has been boosted by the likes of Asif Ali and Shadab, youngsters Haider Ali and Mohammad Wasim Jr have rapidly adapted to international cricket, and the skill of Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf has repeatedly come to the fore.
The fact that they fielded the same XI across the two wins in the series says a thing about how settled this side is, having three members yet unused. And although the third and final match might be labelled as a dead rubber with the series already in Pakistan's pocket, it provides just the perfect opportunity for the team management to experiment with fresh faces, as they aim to build a solid pool and go two steps better at the next edition of the T20 World Cup, which starts in less than a year's time.
Pakistan WWWWW (Last five completed matches; most recent first)
West Indies LLLLW
In the spotlight
He didn't get to play a single game in the T20 World Cup despite being in Pakistan's final squad, but spin-bowling allrounder Mohammad Nawaz
has had an impactful five matches since. His two wickets came at 27 and an economy rate of exactly six an over against Bangladesh, and he has followed that up with three wickets at 20 against West Indies. That aside, a cameo of 18* off just eight balls helped Pakistan inch ahead in a tense finish in the first T20I against Bangladesh
, while 30* at a strike rate of 300 in the first T20I versus West Indies
pushed his team up to a match-wining total of 200. Should Nawaz continue to blossom with both ball and bat, he could prove tough competition for the more established Imad Wasim.
West Indies' death bowling so far in the series has made it tough for their batters during the chase. The visitors conceded 53 in the final three-and-a-half overs in the first T20I to Haider and Nawaz, and 31 in the last two overs to Shadab on Tuesday. However, they have the best economy rate of 8.57 and the third-most wickets in the final four overs among all T20I sides in the calendar year. The West Indies bowlers would quickly want to get back to that level.
Pakistan wouldn't mind giving some of their regulars a break and bring in the three unused members of the squad: right-arm quicks Mohammad Hasnain and Shahnawaz Dahani, and legspinner Usman Qadir. With the ODI series starting just two days after the third T20I - the three ODIs will all be done inside five days - resting Afridi, Rauf and Shadab, although the latter is their vice-captain, ahead of matches that count for World Cup Super League points would be prudent.
Pakistan XI (possible): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Mohammad Rizwan (wk), 3 Fakhar Zaman, 4 Haider Ali, 5 Iftikhar Ahmed, 6 Asif Ali, 7 Shadab Khan (vice-capt)/Usman Qadir, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Haris Rauf/ Shahnawaz Dahani, 10 Shaheen Shah Afridi/Mohammad Hasnain, 11 Mohammad Wasim
Left-arm spinner Gudakesh Motie is the only real choice for a change for the third game. With nothing further to lose, he could be drafted in for an international debut although that would imply leaving out one of the quicks, with Akeal Hosein having done appreciably well and Hayden Walsh Jr having played just one game. But dropping a fast bowler may not be all that bad considering the pitches have been slow, and where the spinners' economy rate has been just 5.86.
West Indies XI (possible): 1 Brandon King, 2 Shai Hope, 3 Shamarh Brooks, 4 Nicholas Pooran (capt, wk), 5 Rovman Powell, 6 Romario Shepherd, 7 Odean Smith, 8 Dominic Drakes/Gudakesh Motie, 9 Akeal Hosein, 10 Hayden Walsh Jr, 11 Oshane Thomas
Pitch and conditions
Scores batting first in the series read 200 and 172, and more of the same can be expected given it is a placid pitch at the National Stadium in Karachi. The weather should remain pleasant and clear, with dew often present post 8pm local time.
Stats and Trivia
West Indies have played five T20Is in Pakistan, and have lost them all. They were swept 3-0 by the hosts in 2018 and have now lost two games. Pakistan, meanwhile, have won nine of their last ten completed T20Is at home. Courtesy of a remarkable recent period as partners at the top, Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam already sit eighth among opening pairs with most runs in T20Is. Another century stand would guarantee them a climb of at least two steps up.
"Extremely happy with the performances of the team. You see Brandon King putting his hand up in the last game; Romario Shepherd, Odean Smith and Akeal Hosein [are] wonderful to see. The attitude is excellent… It's a learning process for us, it takes time to win - and we understand that."
West Indies' stand-in captain Nicholas Pooran wants to count the positives of a young squad despite the series loss
Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo