What can Pakistan expect to achieve in the Tests against West Indies?
13 days after Dave Richardson presented the ICC Test Championship mace to Misbah-ul-Haq and Pakistan contentedly sat on the top, India have dislodged Pakistan from the number one that is now theirs to claim for a while, unless New Zealand can steal a win in the third and final Test and Pakistan clean sweep the West Indies.
Number one or not, everybody can agree to the fact that Pakistan have proved what they are capable of as a Test side, all of which is due to the coaches, the players and everyone who made positive contributions during this time of revival. Team stability had a crucial role to play in Pakistan’s success over the years. Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed, in that same order, have been the constant features of the side and that should be the case against the West Indies too.
However, over the past few years, especially during the most recent tour of England,Pakistan are missing a genuine all-rounder who could contribute equally with both bat and ball – someone who adds depth to the batting line-up and provides the option of a fifth bowler. Pakistan will be playing the West Indies in Asian conditions, therefore, it would be most fitting if Pakistan opted for a bowling all-rounder who adds variety to the spin department. It is a two-way race between Mohammad Nawaz and Imad Wasim, both of whom are going through a purple patch in their careers.
While Imad has experienced more success in the shorter formats, it is debatable whether or not he would be able to replicate the same form in the longest format too. Imad and Nawaz, despite both being left-arm spinners, are completely different types of bowlers. Imad banks on his dead-straight line for wickets where he cramps the batsmen up for a room and frustrates the batsman enough for him to make a mistake. Nawaz, on the contrary, is a proper spinner of the ball who knows how to extract turn out of the pitch by bowling on the correct lengths. Since Nawaz does actually turn the ball, the one that stays straight becomes equally effective, leaving the batsmen in two minds. It was clear during the ODIs that the West Indian batsman were completely clueless when facing Nawaz which is why he should get the nod ahead of Imad who should prioritize, for the moment, the shorter formats.
As far as batting goes, while Imad, 41.91, does indeed have a higher batting average than Nawaz, 33.48, Nawaz appears to be a step ahead of him when it comes to batting temperament. Imad has made a name for himself as a finisher for Pakistan in the shorter formats, but Nawaz looks to be the one who can dig in deep, get settled into the difficult Asian pitches and steadily keep the scoreboard ticking with his ability to rotate the strike at will.
For the top order, Pakistan have found much-needed stability in the form of Sami Aslam whose excellent temperament and ability was on full display against a highly potent English pace attack that troubled even the likes of Younis Khan. Azhar is most likely to maintain his position on top with Sami, opening up the No. 3 for, Pakistan’s most technically correct batsman at the moment, Asad Shafiq. Shafiq looked at complete ease when batting at 3 against England and scored a century that sent out a clear indication that he wanted to make this spot his. That would mean that Babar Azam will have to wait another series or two before getting inducted into the Test side.
Mohammad Amir will be making his Emirates Test comeback and is likely to be the first name on the sheet alongside Wahab who has found plenty of success in recent past on difficult pitches like these where the bowler is required to hit the deck hard and generate his own pace and bounce. While Wahab, Amir and Yasir are most likely to be the first names on the sheet, Zulfiqar Babar might be worried about his spot and while it is due to him performing badly, but because of the continuous rise and success of bowlers like Muhammad Asghar, Zafar Gohar and even Kashif Bhatti, all of whom are left-arm orthodox.While I do feel that Babar might get the nod in light of his performances in the past where Yasir and him bowled amazingly in spells, one can expect either of the three names mentioned above to replace him sooner rather than later.
As far as the West Indian team is concerned, it is a side stuck in a vicious loop that is handed a blow every time it feels progressive. However, expect the young duo of Roston Chase and Jermaine Blackwood to test the resolve of Pakistani bowlers with a similar display of temperament to the one against India that helped the West Indies draw the Test. The fifth-wicket stand between the two, worth 93 runs, pushed India to the limit where Virat Kohli was left with no option but to accept the outcome of the match. In the bowling department, West Indies will be hoping to see the pairing of Shanon Gabriel and Alzarri Jospeh bring them wickets upfront using their raw pace. West Indies are evidently short of match-winners in the spin compartment which is most likely to be led by leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo, along with the part-time off-break option provided by Kraigg Brathwaite. While the spin options for West Indies are indeed limited, their pace attack will challenge Pakistan.
All in all, plenty of cricket for Misbah-ul-Haq and his boys to look forward to. West Indies are not the toughest of oppositions, therefore, realistically speaking, Pakistan should be displeased with anything less than 3-0 that too on familiar conditions. Experiments with the squad can be afforded prior to the tour of Australia and New Zealand to ensure that Pakistan head south with their best possible combinations.
© Cricket World 2016