Pakistan might be playing their first T20I series in six months, but limited-overs captain Sarfraz Ahmed feels they are well-prepared to take on West Indies, given they've arrived in the Caribbean fresh off the Pakistan Super League. In the four-match series, Pakistan will be fielding new-look XIs, with a brand new opening combination and a couple of high-profile old names returning, and Sarfraz said he was "optimistic" about these changes.
"It's an important series and the first match will set a tone for the series," Sarfraz said on the eve of the first T20I in Bridgetown. "PSL is an advantage as the boys are coming through playing T20 cricket. Many players who performed have been rewarded. I think it's a good sign that PSL is happening and players who are performing in domestic are being selected. [Legspinner] Shadab [Khan] did well, so did [left-arm pacer] Usman [Khan], so it's good to have top performers such as these boys coming through; this event is helping us unearth talent."
The change at the top of the order was prompted by a less positive event; Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif have been charged by the PCB for alleged breaches of its anti-corruption code in the PSL. Sarfraz said the team was not letting this get to them. "Morale of our team is very good and boys are working hard," he said.
Two contenders to fill their spots are two returning big names: Kamran Akmal, who last played in 2014, and Ahmed Shehzad, who last played a year ago. These two, too, owe their comeback to their performances in the PSL. Kamran, in fact, has been solid overall in domestic cricket in the three years he has been away from international cricket. He was the top-scorer with 1035 runs at 79.61 in the recent first-class domestic tournament and was the leading run-scorer in the PSL with a tally of 353. Before that, he scored 480 first-class runs at 60 and 576 List-A runs (topping the domestic One-Day Cup charts) at 72 in 2015-16, and 900 first-class runs at 52.94 in 2014-15.
"We are all impressed with Kamran's performance," Sarfraz said. "The way he had been scoring runs continuously over the last two years is outstanding. With his recent form in the PSL, I am optimistic that he can carry his form here and contribute and win it for Pakistan."
Like his counterpart Carlos Brathwaite, Sarfraz is hoping the mixing of players at the T20 leagues will give his side an advantage. "Four to five senior players have been playing their league [the Caribbean Premier League] in the West Indies and this is an advantage. It's a good thing for us that these boys can easily adjust in these conditions."