Pakistan eye knockout punch against dispirited West Indies
The 2-0 scoreline may suggest more of the same from the remaining T20 matches this series, but the manner in which Pakistan sneaked over the line in the second game brought the tour to life. It was an encounter West Indies looked to have wrapped up a number of times, only to let it slip through their fingers during a frenetic last over.
Even so, West Indies have shown they’re up to the task of challenging the visitors, and on the evidence of Thursday’s showing, a long-awaited limited-overs win against Pakistan might not be far away.
The hosts’ primary headache is the lack of form for many of their key T20 players. Lendl Simmons has scored just 21 runs in his last five T20I innings, while Keiron Pollard has not scored more than 26 in a T20I since July 2013, and has a disappointing (by his standards anyway) strike rate of 103.9 since then.
Captain Carlos Brathwaite is yet to regain the touch that blasted West Indies to the World T20 title, and the openers lack experience. In addition, the previous game saw one of the worst fielding displays from West Indies in recent times, multiple schoolboy errors gifting Pakistan extra runs in a match they only won by three.
Pakistan, for their part, will recognise that they made off with a win they barely deserved, relying heavily on their 18-year old leg-spinner Shadab Khan, who, besides Wahab Riaz, was the only player to walk away from the game with any credit. Pakistan’s batting is at the same, maddeningly inconsistent level it’s been at for a number of years now, and West Indies have a bowling attack to exploit that weakness.
However, with West Indies appearing to have what can only be described as a mental block against Sarfraz Ahmed’s men, Pakistan may walk away with a series win that will, on current evidence, only paper over the cracks.
In the spotlight
The second T20 was as close to a one-on-one match-up as cricket could hope for, with the result of the match looking like it hinged on the duel between Marlon Samuels and Shadab. After a lean period, which saw the West Indies batsman being dropped from the ODI series against England, he was at his expansive best on Thursday.
Imad Wasim went for consecutive sixes in an over Samuels took 19 from, and two cover drives in a Hasan Ali over showed Samuels was as much at home with finesse as he was with force. He looked like he might drag West Indies over the line on his own, and his failure to do so may well see him hungry to make amends in the upcoming encounter.
The fire was back in Wahab Riaz’s belly during the second match after a disappointing opener. At the Queen’s Park Oval, Wahab combined the two things that so often fail to go hand in hand for him: raw pace and accuracy. The penultimate over of the West Indies’ innings – bowled by Wahab – was riveting viewing, with the ball at times coming in as fast as 95mph, beating the batsmen for pace.
It also accounted for the crucial wicket of Brathwaite, whose presence, as everyone knows now, always means West Indies are always in with a chance. If Wahab can find that sort of performance consistently, he can ensure the hosts have one more thing to worry about.
West Indies didn’t make any changes after a dismal performance in the first game, so they are likely to stick with the side that so significantly improved four days later. The only question mark may be over the inclusion of Rovman Powell, who fell for a first-ball duck, with Jason Mohammad a possible replacement.
West Indies (probable): Evin Lewis, Chadwick Walton (wk), Marlon Samuels, Lendl Simmons, Keiron Pollard, Rovman Powell/Jason Mohammad, Carlos Brathwaite (capt), Sunil Narine, Jason Holder, Samuel Badree, Kesrick Williams
Pakistan’s top order was ordinary yet again, but with no obvious replacements, they may stick to the same eleven that edged the second game in Trinidad. However, replacing Kamran Akmal with Mohammad Hafeez might be a possibility, if only for the extra bowling option he gives them.
Pakistan (probable): Ahmed Shehzad, Kamran Akmal/Mohammad Hafeez, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed (capt & wk), Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Sohail Tanvir, Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz (ESPNCricinfo)