Opening Test starts today at Providence
By Sean Devers
It is often said that Pakistan’s cricket is either hot or cold but rarely warm. With both teams in rebuilding mode and without key players, an interesting two-Test series is anticipated between Pakistan and West Indies and the first session of the opening game at the Providence Stadium today could indicate the eventual result of the seventh Test series in the West Indies between the two sides.
The departure of Pakistan’s leading batsman Younis Khan due to the death of his brother follows the non-selection of experienced leg-spinner Danish Kaneria who has been asked by the PCB to produce a ‘clearance certificate’ from Essex if he is to be cleared by the board’s integrity committee and allowed to resume his international career. Regular Wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal has also been axed.
The life ban last year on the prolific Mohammed Yousuf who demolished the West Indies attack in the last Test series between the two sides five years ago in Pakistan is great news for a West Indies team with their fair share of problems and a Captain desperate to prove he deserves his place in the Test side.
The pugnacious Chris Gayle and fellow Jamaican Jerome Taylor are unavailable due to ILP commitments while Dwayne Bravo is also in India for the IPL after playing the ODI series.
Both Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shiv Chanderpaul should play in front of their adoring home fans and it is hoped that their recent off the field issues does affect them or the team.
So two teams, fairly evenly matched even in their off-the field controversy, square off from 10:00hrs today on what should be a low, slow track to begin the 22nd Test between them in the West Indies and the fifth in Guyana.
The West Indies have failed to win any of their last 17 Tests since February 2009 but history is on their side. In six previous Test tours to the Caribbean since their first trip in 1958, Pakistan has never won a Test series and has only four wins from 21 Tests on West Indian soil.
Pakistan’s shabby performance in the 5th ODI which the West Indies won at the same venue a week ago emphasized the visitor’s inconsistency after winning the 5-match series with three consecutive victories.
The last time Pakistan played a Test match in Guyana was 11 years ago and the record between the two sides in Guyana read:-Pakistan 1, West Indies 1 with two draws. Of all the Test playing countries Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the only ones never to have won a Test series in the Caribbean and the West Indies will be hoping that it stays that way by May 24, the scheduled final day of the second Test in St Kitts.
Although the emphasis seems on the young guns at a time when the WICB says it is looking to build a team to win the 2015 World Cup, it should be the ‘old guards’ who could be depended on for the host to post a challenging total against a team with a high-class pacer in Umar Gul and a couple of wily spinners, including Saeed Ajmal who has befuddled batsmen with his Doosra in his short nine-Test career.
If the 36-year-old Chanderpaul, who averages 41.95 from 13 Tests against Pakistan with six fifties and an unbeaten 153, is the glue that holds the West Indies middle order together, the elegant Sarwan (whose unbeaten debut 84 in Barbados 11 years ago is his only fifty against Pakistan in six matches) is the oil that keeps the runs flowing smoothly.
Both Guyanese have not played much competitive cricket since the World Cup and both will be aiming to prove a point with their bats. This could be good news for West Indies, especially if the dashing Darren Bravo and the compact Brendon Nash find their best form.
Nash is the Vice-Captain while Bravo’s only three Tests so far have produced half-centuries. They should both play today leaving the headache of which of the batsmen to drop.
Lendl Simmons, despite just playing three Tests is the inform opener and should play while omitting 18-year-old Kraigg Braithwaite from the 13 in preference to Devon Smith means that Smith should open with Simmons.
Marlon Samuels has not played a Test since 2008 in Trinidad but his wonderful 2011 First-Class season and his explosive double century in the two-day practice game at DCC are strong reasons for him to play today. But everyone cannot play and a batsman and a pacer are expected to be the two players left out.
Smith managed 103 runs in the two Tests against Pakistan when they were last here in 2005 but part-time off-spinner Mohammed Hafeez has trapped him cheaply in three consecutive ODI innings resulting in him being dropped.
West Indies will hope that if Smith plays today Pakistan will go the conventional route and ask Tanvir Ahmed, Wahab Riaz or 21-year-old Junaid Khan to share the new ball with Gul who broke Sarwan’s foot the last time the teams met in a Test series.
The pressure will be on Smith since Ajmal could bowl all day in a Test match.
Kemar Roach, Fidel Edwards and Ravi Rampaul are the three fast bowlers selected along with Sammy and Guyanese leg-spinner Davendra Bishoo.
Edwards, just back from injury and out of Test cricket for two years could be given some more rest on a track which could be a nightmare for the ‘out and out’ pacers.
Bishoo should become Guyana’s 45th Test cricketer and the little Berbician could be asked to do the bulk of the bowling with the versatile Nash and Simmons lending bowling support to what could be a four-prong bowling attack.
Without Younis Khan, a lot will depend on Skipper Misbah Ul Haq who has scored two hundreds in 23 Tests since his debut against New Zealand 10 years ago, while Mohammed Hafeez has been in great form and will hope to set a good foundation at the top of the order for the visitors who have not played a home series since 2009 due to security reasons.
Asad Shafik, Azar Ali and Hammad Azam who played in the last under-19 World Cup will all want to expose their talent while if the exciting 20-year-old Umar Akmal, who already has a century and five fifties from 13 Tests, get into his stride what should be a fair size crowd could be entertained if Pakistan bat first today.
Abdur Rehman is also a useful all rounder and provides left-arm spinning options while Mohammed Salman who has replaced Kamran Akmal, will make his Test debut today.
According to the GCB thirty percent of tickets for today have been sold while children under16 will be admitted free.
If less than 80% of the tickets for each day are not sold there will be no live television coverage of the game in Guyana although NCN will carry the match live on Radio.
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