Ahead of the series between two look-alike teams, Pakistan and West Indies, a respected member of our forums takes a look at Pakistan's key players, what Pakistan can expect from West Indies, and what Pakistan needs to do to ensure a series win.
By Sameer Mallick (18th September, 2016)
A new day, a new challenge. With the England series concluding merely a couple of weeks ago, the Pakistan cricket team now face their next task, hosting the West Indies in their adopted home of the UAE. The England series was an opportunity for Mickey Arthur to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the team in all three formats; he would have experienced the volatility of Pakistani cricket first hand, from the great Test victories and winning the Test mace, to the drubbing in the ODI series and being recipients of the highest total in ODI history. Welcome aboard, Mickey bhai…
Mickey Arthur appears to be a no-nonsense kind of coach, and seems focused on bringing in a culture of professionalism within the Pakistani cricket set-up. Pakistani players have traditionally had a laissez-faire approach to preparation, letting their talent do the talking on the field. Whilst it is this very approach that has made Pakistan arguably one of the most exciting teams to watch, it perhaps also explains why the team has never managed to achieve the levels of greatness it should have done. Mickey bhai has seen enough, and now seems ready to roll up his sleeves and bring about a much-needed change in work ethic, and if he manages to pull it off amidst the politics and culture within the PCB, he will certainly go down as one of the greatest cricket coaches in history. Time will tell…
It will be interesting to see how the Pakistani players respond to this muscular approach by Arthur. All eyes will be on Umar Akmal who has earned a recall to the T20 side after a host of impressive performances in the recently concluded domestic T20 tournament. Arthur will want his players to show commitment during free-practice and for them to play according to the team plans he puts in place. Being under the new set-up will most certainly be a kind of litmus test for Akmal, in exhibiting whether he has genuinely overcome his disciplinary gremlins. Whilst his clean hitting during the domestic T20 confirmed the talent he possesses, the fact that he appears to have gained a few further inches around his waistline suggests that he still has some way to go in improving his work ethic.
The squad selection for the T20Is overall seems decent. The players who participated in the fantastic display against England feature in the squad, and one hopes that they can continue from where they left off. Leg spinning all-rounder Saad Nasim finds his way into the squad, as does Rumman Raees. I personally am not so sure about these selections; neither of these players set the domestic T20 tournament alight, both having very high economy rates in their bowling, with Nasim showing mediocre performances with the bat. I suspect the principle reason for the selection lies in the think-tank wanting them to experience being in the Pakistan set-up, and for the coaches to have a closer look at them to see if they possess what it takes.
Pakistan will want to succeed in the T20I phase of the tour, and transpose that momentum into the ODI series, and boy are they in need of it. Unless they can pull off some sort of a miracle, Pakistan will most likely have to qualify for the next ICC World Cup. Much has been said about Azhar Ali’s captaincy, his batting, and how the team seemed to possess more drive under Sarfraz’s leadership. However, I find myself concurring with Inzamam on this one; Azhar needs to be given a fair crack at the whip, and there is every possibility that he can grow into the role as ODI captain. Also, I am not entirely sure where this idea has emerged that Azhar isn’t an ODI batsman; sure he may not be a belligerent striker of the ball, but with an ODI average of 40 and a strike rate of 70, he certainly is a useful player to have in the side. An ideal batting line up needs to consist of players who can score quick runs, balanced by those who can steady the ship, thus giving the stroke makers the confidence to free their arms. Azhar is one of those batsmen who play the role of steadying the ship.
On the topic of batsman who can steady the ship, I think it would be a shame if Fawad Alam is ignored, as he can be an accumulator coming in the latter part of an innings. He has been one of those players who has done little wrong in his career, but for some reason continues to be ignored by selectors as a permanent fixture. Given an opportunity, he could well play a similar role for the Pakistan team as Michael Bevan did for Australia.
The UAE is one of those venues where one would consider playing a specialist spinner ahead of 3 pacers, and of late, this role has been played by Yasir Shah. However, Yasir hasn’t been nearly as impressive on the ODI scene as he has been in Tests, and with Saeed Ajmal being the leading wicket taker in the domestic T20 tournament, perhaps he has done enough to warrant a recall into the ODI side as the specialist spinner.
On the Test front, Pakistan find themselves coming into this series as the world’s top-ranked Test playing nation. However, the test for them starts now, as we will now see if they can maintain such a lofty status. Pakistan have most certainly peaked, and work must now get under way to prepare for the inevitable departure of Misbah and Younis. If Azhar Ali is indeed the natural successor as Test captain, he should use every opportunity to get involved in the on field decision making under Misbah’s mentorship. Sami Aslam is likely to get an extended run in the Test team, and he will need to cash in on the batting friendly wickets of the UAE if he is to become a permanent fixture in the side.
Pakistan go into this series as favourites as the West Indies are nowhere near the formidable side they once were, and have logistical issues of their own, with Phil Simmons curiously being sacked days before their tour. But they also are the only other Test playing nation that can match Pakistan in their volatility; they too have the ability to miraculously turn it on when least expected. Pakistan cannot afford to be complacent and as the England series has shown us, they still have much work to do.