West Indies head coach Phil Simmons acknowledged that the hosts were the underdogs in the upcoming two-match Test series against Pakistan. The Tests - both of which will be played in Jamaica - herald the start of the second edition of the World Test Championship for both sides.
With both sides having endured something of a difficult time in the inaugural leg, Simmons emphasised West Indies were keen to get off to the right start, but expected a scrap against a Pakistan side that won a dramatic series 2-1 the last time they were on Caribbean shores, in 2017.
"We've always had tough battles with any Pakistan team that comes to the Caribbean," Simmons said in a press conference. "They've played very well in their last two Test series and are coming in on a high. We didn't play quite as well in our last series [against South Africa] so it's going to be tough. I think even though we're at home we're a little bit of an underdog, but we're going to put everything into it to try and make sure we come out on top."
West Indies finished second from bottom in the recently-concluded World Test championship rankings, something Simmons said wouldn't improve until the batters stepped their game up. "It's the start of a new series and we're trying to make sure things improve this cycle. But there's no hiding from the fact our batting needs to improve and get to a healthy stage where we can get to 400 in an innings on a consistent basis."
That department was a particular letdown in the series against South Africa, with the home side bowled out for fewer than 165 in each of their four innings. In the first Test, South Africa bowled West Indies out for 97 in under 41 overs, going on to win by an innings. The second Test, while marginally more competitive, still saw the visitors ease to a 158-run win.
"A lot of the players said they didn't get any work done in their home territories before this camp and the four-day game. It's disappointing to find out there's nothing done and we have to start from scratch here."Phil Simmons
Simmons drove the point about the batting home by refusing to be drawn into praising Shamarh Brooks, who scored 134 in the warm-up game, leading to his inclusion into the Test squad. "I wouldn't say I'm impressed - I look for more guys getting to that level of scores. You score 150 at that level, you have to work to score 100 at the higher level. So I'd like to see more runs scored at that level. Bigger scores."
He also declared himself unimpressed by the lack of background preparation the players had been able to achieve ahead of the first Test.
"There's not enough work done before the players got here. A lot of the players said they didn't get any work done in their home territories before this camp and the four-day game. It's disappointing to find out there's nothing done and we have to start from scratch here. Yes, it definitely is."
Simmons also said that left-hander Shimron Hetmyer would return to the Test squad at some point. Hetmyer's stock with West Indies has fallen somewhat, most notably after he was dropped from an ODI squad against Sri Lanka following a failed fitness Test. In May, Cricket West Indies lead selector Roger Harper said he was "concerned" about the 24-year old's loss of form, and he remains, for now, a fair distance away from a Test call-up.
"I think Hetmyer can be a world-class Test player when that time comes," Simmons said. "I'm sure at some point he's going to return to the Test squad. The experience he's got from being here before he'll make use of. He's had a few incidents he's not proud of but he's maturing and I'm sure he's going to get back into the Test squad at some point in time and show what he's made of."
The first Test begins on August 12 at Sabina Park. West Indies have not beaten Pakistan at the venue since 1977, with Pakistan winning the most recent encounter in 2017 by 136 runs.
West Indies vs Pakistan
ICC World Test Championship
Pakistan tour of West Indies
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000