Teams seek progress as they begin new WTC campaigns
A dustbowl at Sabina Park, devoid of spectators owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, with rain forecast on all five days of the Test match, doesn’t sound like the first step of any great journey. But it is at this venue that West Indies and Pakistan set off on a mission to put right all that went awry in the past two years, trying to ensure they’re in the running to challenge New Zealand in their defence of the World Test Championship in two years’ time.
That South Africa series might not be an entirely accurate depiction of West Indies’ stage of development at this point, with a previous series against Sri Lanka highlighting some of their all-round quality, and a spirited win against Bangladesh spotlighting their depth. The batting has shown shades of the class that is required at this level, but several batters making contributions in the same innings has been an issue. Meanwhile, the four-pronged pace-bowling attack of Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph, Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder would trouble most sides, while Jamel Worrican, Rakheem Cornwall or even Roston Chase could find grip and turn on Sabina Park’s surface.
For Pakistan, this remains, perhaps, the opportunity of a decade to make the WTC final. The way the fixtures have fallen for them this cycle, this two-match series is perhaps the most challenging away hurdle of all, with their only other tours taking place in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. With the confidence of a spectacular 2-1 win in the Caribbean four years ago under their belt, and coming into the series on the back of wins against South Africa and Zimbabwe, Azam’s side will – and indeed, should – be disappointed if they fly back home without the trophy.
At this rate, it might appear Pakistan have enough to overwhelm the hosts. But while it’s never wise to underestimate Pakistan, overestimating them hasn’t exactly proved a winning strategy either. Just tune in instead, would you?
West Indies: LLDDW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
West Indies’ batters are increasingly under the microscope, so there might be some shuffling of the pack there. Shamarh Brooks scored 134 in the warm-up game, which might edge him into the starting XI.
West Indies (possible): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite (capt) 2 Kieron Powell 3 Nkrumah Bonner 4 Shamarh Brooks 5 Jermaine Blackwood 5 Jason Holder 7 Joshua da Silva (wk) 8 Alzarri Joseph 9 Rakheem Cornwall 10 Kemar Roach 11 Shannon Gabriel
Pakistan’s recent success in West Indies with spin bowling might tempt them to play two spinners, although that would squeeze out Faheem Ashraf, whose lower order runs were vital against South Africa
Pakistan: (probable): 1 Abid Ali 2 Imran Butt 3 Azhar Ali 4 Babar Azam (capt) 5 Fawad Alam 6 Mohammad Rizwan (wk) 7 Faheem Ashraf/Nauman Ali 7 Hasan Ali 9 Yasir Shah 10 Mohammad Abbas 11 Shaheen Shah Afridi
Pitch and conditions
Scattered showers are forecast throughout the Test match in Kingston, so significant interruptions would not be surprising.
Sabina Park has tended to play host to fair contests between bat and ball, if a little on the slower side over recent years. When Pakistan last played here in 2017, Yasir Shah was the Player of the Match, taking eight wickets.
Stats and trivia
“Jamaican pitches provide a good challenge to the batters, hence our batters need to come to the party and display their true potential and calibre in these two Tests”
Pakistan captain Babar Azam prioritises runs on the board
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000