Despite the laudable public relations job done over the past 18 months and a Twenty20 world title in the bag, West Indies are in the familiar position of trying to avoid another series defeat when they take on Pakistan in the fifth and final match of their One-Day International series at the Beausejour Stadium in St. Lucia tomorrow.
With praise coming from within the halls of academia to some punch drunk from victories over the likes of Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and New Zealand, the West Indies must now defeat a worthy, if unpredictable adversary, after giving below par performances in two back-to-back One-Day International series.
West Indies’ batting has been their usual bugbear. And their bowling, despite occasional positive sparks, has faltered at critical junctures.
The batting unit seemed to be making progress in the last game after a series of failures. But the form of Chris Gayle has been a big worry for the hosts as he has managed just 40 runs in four games of which 30 came in the last ODI when he batted down the order.
The strategy might have worked for his highest score of the series but surely dropping down the order has been a psychological concession to Pakistan. Barring Marlon Samuels and Lendl Simmons, none of the batsmen average more than 22.
Opener Johnson Charles continues to gift his hand after getting into the thirties and the switch in the batting line-up from Kieron Pollard to Devon Smith can be likened to Mr. Hyde being transformed into Mr. Hyde. Selectors could consider bringing in Tino Best to replace them both; he bowls better and their runs have not been a factor.
Samuels’ century in the last match was a positive development and Simmons’ form has been encouraging against a quality Pakistan attack that has every bowling base covered. The two, along with the struggling middle-order, will have to bring their A game tomorrow to at least draw a series that the visitors lead 2-1 after one game was tied.
West Indies’ bowling has been better than the batting. The bowlers have started well in most of their games with pacers Kemar Roach and Jason Holder proving a potent combination. The West Indies have also bowled relatively well in the middle overs but that Pakistan have recovered from poor starts in almost every match is testimony to the fact that West Indies have lost the plot in the late overs throughout the series.
And this is where captain Dwayne Bravo has been the chief culprit. He clearly has sought to lead from the front, but should perhaps leave the ‘back end’ of the game to another bowler. He has snared seven wickets in the series but has been an open faucet with runs in the latter stages of the games.
If medium-pace is his preferred option at the end of the innings he should consider entrusting the ball to his predecessor Darren Sammy. While Bravo is averaging over six runs an over in the series, Sammy has been bowling his overs at under four runs an over.
Pakistan enter tomorrow’s game in relaxed mood. They have not lost an ODI series in the Caribbean since 1988 and when they leave the field that proud record will remain in tact. Theirs has been a series where their victories have mainly come compliments of their bowling and through the batting of captain Misbah-ul-Haq who, with an average against the West Indies in excess of 70, continues to relish the regional attack.
He has already scored three fifties and though he has not taken the West Indies’ attack apart, he has steadily accumulated runs in the middle-order in the fashion of a slightly younger Guyanese left-hander ignored by myopic selectors. The talented Umar Akmal has produced vital runs for Pakistan in the late overs and is the second highest run-getter for his side in the series.
Pakistan, though, have problems similar to their hosts. Their batsmen have been short of runs and though Mohammed Hafeez made a half-century in the last match, he, Nasir Jamshed and Ahmed Shehzad have under-performed in the series. Following his blistering half-century in Guyana, bowling-allrounder Shahid Afridi has had three failures. He might be due another significant batting contribution tomorrow.
Afridi has bowled beautifully in the tournament and together with left-hand pacer Mohammad Irfan who has been a handful for all the West Indies batsmen and the wily Saeed Ajmal, the Pakistan attack has not been truly collared during the series.
Weather, which was a factor in the fourth match, could play a part in tomorrow’s game. If it does, Pakistan have little to lose though Ul-Haq has stressed he is determined to win the match.
“We’re looking forward to winning again. We gained a lot from that win (on Sunday) and confidence will be high for this final game,” he said today.
The match starts at 9 a.m.
Teams: West Indies (likely): Johnson Charles, Devon Smith, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Chris Gayle, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy, Sunil Narine, Kemar Roach, Jason Holder. Pakistan (likely): Ahmed Shehzad, Nasir Jamshed, Mohammed Hafeez, Misbah Ul-Haq, Haris Sohail, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Asad Ali, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan. (WG)