Can Pakistan ensure victory for Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan in their final Test series? © Getty Images
Can Pakistan ensure victory for Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan in their final Test series? © Getty Images

Indian Premier League (IPL) 2017 has been topping news right now in contemporary cricket. Top players from all around the world are competing in the famous Twenty20 (T20) League in India to win the silverware. However, far away, far in the west, in another continent, Pakistan will start the three-match Test series against West Indies at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica. The equation will be different when this series begins. This will be the last series wherein Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan will play for Pakistan. These will be the last three Tests for the two of the most prolific batsmen Pakistan ever produced. Full Cricket Scorecard: Pakistan vs West Indies 1st Test at Sabina Park

For Pakistan the stakes are very high in this series. They fared good in Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) and One-Day Internationals (ODIs) winning both trophies. But in Tests the fortunes have not favoured them. The last time Pakistan faced West Indies in Tests was almost six months back in the UAE – Pakistan’s home ground. Though the scoreline says 2-1 in favour of Pakistan. It was too close to comfort for the hosts. West Indies came close to winning the first Test and pocketed the final Test But since that defeat, Pakistan played five Tests losing each one of them – two against New Zealand and three against Australia respectively.

In addition to such a poor recent record in the traditional format of the game, history does not favour Pakistan either.

Pakistan are yet to win a series in West Indies. On the contrary, Pakistan have dominated the West Indies. The loss at Sharjah last year was Pakistan’s first loss at home in 26 years (1990-2016) and winning every series played on Pakistani soil between the two sides in the same period.

But, when it comes to playing in West Indies, Pakistan have failed to replicate that form. In the last three series between the two nations, played in 2000, 2005 and 2011, they have failed to live up to the expectations of victory on tour which the Misbah-led Pakistan will hope to change. With hopes of repairing the past records, Pakistan will also have to shun their recent performance from the only warm-up game against West Indies President’s XI.

The visitors head in to the first Test with a new pair of experienced openers – Ahmed Shehzad and Shaan Masood whose careers have revived getting lifelines from the selectors. Azhar Ali who opened the innings for almost a year will most likely return to No.3.

As far as the bowling in concerned, Mohammad Aamer and Wahab Riaz will lead the pace-attack. Hasan Ali had shown good signs of improvement in the limited-overs cricket, but was sidelined due to an injury. Wahab has been erratic with his line and length dwelling in the corridor of uncertainty but given his vast experience there seems to be no replacement for his as such.

The main arsenal for Pakistan will be their spin bowling attack. With the usual face Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan – the Pakistan Super League (PSL) 2017 sensation who rocked the hosts in T20I and ODIs, has been selected in the Test squad.

As for the hosts, consistency is the word. The last Test West Indies played was also against Pakistan – the third Test of the series in UAE which they won by 5 wickets. But since then – Test cricket and West Indies have eluded each other.

Despite them playing at their home, their record is forgetful for the hosts. Prior to losing the 20-over and 50-over games against Pakistan, they had already lost three-game ODI series against England.

Even though the records from the past align with the hosts, this series will definitely not be a cake-walk for the Jason Holder and his men. Kieran Powell and the uncapped pair of Vishaul Singh and Shimron Hetmyer, who put on a stellar show in the warm-up game, have been included in the 13-member squad. There is a possibility of Hetmyer and pacer Miguel Cummins missing out the first Test. Having added these players in the squad, the experienced trio of Marlon Samuels, Darren Bravo and Leon Johnson have faced the axe.

Kraigg Brathwaite, Kieran Powell, Jermaine Blackwood and Roston Chase will have to shoulder the responsibility of negating Pakistan. Given the squad and its depth, these players comparatively have the maximum experience and hence will be regarded as seniors.

As far as their bowling is concerned, Shannon Gabriel, Alzari Joseph and skipper Holder will hold the key to pace department. Gabriel has grown big in his stature as pacer and has led West Indies pace attack successfully in the past.

Number game:

  • Wahab is the only bowler in the squad to have the experience of playing Test in West Indies.
  • Pakistan have never won any Test series in West Indies.
  • West Indies last won a series at home against Pakistan in 2000. Since then, they played two and both ended in draw.
  • The only instance of Pakistan wining first match of a Test series against West Indies in West Indies was 1987-88.
  • Apart from Bishoo and Kraigg Brathwaite, no Caribbean player has experience of playing Tests against Pakistan in West Indies.

Look out for:

  • 50th Test at Sabina Park
  • Misbah need 49 to complete 5,000 Test runs
  • Younis need 23 more to become 1st Pakistan player to reach 10,000  runs
  • Sarfraz Ahmed need 52 more to complete 2,000 Test runs
  • Gabriel need 1 more to complete 50 wickets in Tests

Pitch report: The wicket is expected to be dry here as usual. Shadab may not make his Test debut alongside established Yasir unless the pitch looks extremely dry.

Squads:

West Indies: Jason Holder (c), Devendra Bishoo, Jermaine Blackwood, Kraigg Brathwaite, Roston Chase, Miguel Cummins, Shane Dowrich (wk), Shannon Gabriel, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Kieran Powell, Vishaul Singh.

Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq (c), Ahmed Shehzad, Azhar Ali, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), Usman Salahuddin, Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Asghar, Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas.

Stats inputs from Abhishek Kumar