Rain, spin could hold sway at Sabina Park as WI face Pakistan

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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 (WTC) in two years’ time.

West Indies, who finished second from bottom in the inaugural cycle, will be especially pleased their most recent series, a dismal 2-0 thrashing at South Africa’s hands, didn’t count towards the WTC.

But if that’s the form they continue to bring this time around, they’re unlikely to push themselves any higher up the table.

Head Coach Phil Simmons admitted the quality of batting needed to improve by leaps and bounds, and was content to pass along the favourites tag to Pakistan for the series, one Babar Azam’s side would rather not be burdened with.

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 three-pronged pace-bowling attack of Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph, 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.

Coach Misbah-ul-Haq (centre) of Pakistan takes part in a training session two days ahead of the of the 1st Test between West Indies and Pakistan at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, on August 10, 2021. (Photo by Randy Brooks/AFP)

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.

The middle-order of Azhar Ali, Azam, Mohammad Rizwan and Fawad Alam forms the spine of this batting line-up.

With a stable opening pair in Pakistan harder to find than the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, the coming-of-age of Azam and Rizwan’s glistening form gives the visitors the buffer they badly needed to protect the lower-middle order which – it must be said – chip in more with the runs than they recently used to.

Yasir Shah’s return also provides an intriguing subplot. The leg-spinner’s value to the side has diminished considerably in the past 18 months or so, but enjoyed a standout tour in 2017, with 25 wickets at 21.96 in three Tests – ten clear of Mohammad Abbas and Gabriel.

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. (ESPNcricinfo)

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