Preview by Rob Johnston
“It would be great to be the first team to cross that 500 mark and I am sure we have the firepower to do it.” Those were the words of West Indies’ Shai Hope after his side had racked up 421 against New Zealand in their final warm-up game before the World Cup. It wasn’t overconfidence. Hope is not the sort of guy who seems to get carried away but it was an interesting remark on the possibility of his team. He’s not wrong either. This West Indian batting line-up bears comparison with any in the tournament.
They certainly won’t die wondering. Chris Gayle, once he’s got his eye in, and Andre Russell, who scored 54 off 25 balls against New Zealand, bring all-out aggression and power to the party while Hope, a centurion in Bristol, and Darren Bravo add the finesse. Throw in the clean hitting abilities of Shimron Hetmeyer, Evin Lewis and Jason Holder and all bases are covered. It hasn’t always been that way over the past four years, of course with players not selected for either political reasons or their unavailability owing to T20 franchise commitments.
The New Zealand match was no one-off either. West Indies have made scores of 389, 381, 360 and 331 in their last ten ODIs. Finally, with more quality in the team, they seem to have found their mojo in one-day cricket after a disastrous cycle since the last World Cup which forced them to go through the qualifiers to even make it to this tournament. Now the winners in 1975 and 1979 are here, an opening game at Trent Bridge, perhaps the most free-scoring ground in world cricket, will do nicely for Gayle and Co.
Pakistan’s bowlers would be forgiven for being apprehensive then, particularly after the shellacking they received in their recent series against England. They conceded 1,424 runs across the four completed innings and often looked clueless as to how to stop Eoin Morgan’s men. They do, however, have leg-spinner Shahdab Khan back after illness ruled him out of the England series. With his variation and ability to both take wickets and keep the runs down, it cannot be overstated how vital he is for his country’s chances. Pakistan cannot win this tournament unless he has a stormer.
Even then, it seems unlikely. A run of form which has seen them lose their last ten ODIs means that Pakistan are nobody’s favourites for the World Cup. It would certainly take an almighty uptick in form for them to emulate their Champions Trophy success in 2017 and although West Indies have been no more consistent, there is a sense of them being on the up which cannot be said of Pakistan. They simply have too many question marks against them.
The seam department is one. Wahab Riaz, despite not playing an ODI since the Champions Trophy group stage defeat to India in 2017, is back and so is Mohammad Amir, a bowler who has taken just three ODI wickets in the last 12 months. Hasan Ali, the star of Pakistan’s successful Champions Trophy turnaround two years ago, is averaging 44 with the ball in that time, too. On their day, all three of these bowlers can be match-winners. Their days are, however, getting fewer and farther between.
They may take some comfort from the fact that West Indies’ attack has fared little better of late. Like Pakistan, taking wickets has been a key problem for the men from the Caribbean and they have conceded more than a run a ball over the last twelve months with the second worst economy rate of teams in the tournament in that time. Of all the West Indian quicks, only Shannon Gabriel and Oshane Thomas average less than 35 with the ball in that same period and unlike Pakistan, they do not have a classy wrist-spinner to pounce in the middle overs. It is a glaring weakness in their side.
To take their opponents down, Pakistan’s batsmen will approach things differently to their West Indian counterparts. Where Gayle and Russell focus on hitting the ball hard, far and often, Pakistan’s batsmen play a different, more measured game. Aside from Fakhar Zaman, the top order, held together by the classy Babar Azam, won’t flash from the word go. Instead they will accumulate and then try and increase their scoring rate as the innings progresses with Asif Ali and Imad Wasim expected to give the innings a flourish at the end.
In terms of averages and hundreds scored, the Pakistani top order’s stats are impressive. Babar, Fakhar and Imam-ul-Haq all average more than 50 in the past year while Pakistan have scored fifteen hundreds in that time, the joint most of all ODI teams alongside England and India. They found their form against England too, posting three consecutive 340-plus scores to prove they can kick on to the sort of totals which will be needed in this tournament. Time will tell if they can keep that aggressive approach up.
Two very different batting approaches then, both effective in their own ways when they come off, both capable of putting bowling attacks under serious pressure. But only one approach has the capacity to intimidate and frighten, to bludgeon opposition teams with aggression and power. In modern ODI cricket, that is a vital ingredient. West Indies now seem to have it. Pakistan need to find it. Quickly.
When: Friday May 31, 2019. 10.30am Local Time
Where: Trent Bridge, Nottingham
What to expect: The weather is set fair for the game although plenty of cloud cover is forecast, keeping temperatures cool. The pitch, as ever in Nottingham, is expected to be excellent for batting which means there will be plenty of runs on offer.
West Indies: Will West Indies opt for all-out pace and pick both Oshane Thomas and Shannon Gabriel or will one of them sit out for the left-armer Sheldon Cottrell? Given the expected cloud cover and Cottrell’s ability to swing the ball, he may get the nod. Ashley Nurse will be the lone spin option.
Possible XI: Chris Gayle, Evin Lewis, Shai Hope, Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmeyer, Andre Russell, Jason Holder, Ashley Nurse, Sheldon Cottrell, Oshane Thomas, Kemar Roach
Pakistan: Pakistan have to decide which combination of bowlers they will go with and whether to exclude the experienced pair of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik. Imad Wasim’s batting prowess means he is likely to play alongside Shahdab Khan as the second spinner while Shaheen Afridi, the pick of Pakistan’s quicks of late, will lead the attack, probably with Mohammad Amir.
Possible XI: Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Sarfraz Ahmed, Shoaib Malik, Imad Wasim, Shahdab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi
Did you know?
– Pakistan have lost 21 of the 32 ODIs they have played since their 2017 Champions Trophy triumph, and won only nine (2 no-results). Their current losing streak is 10 games.
– Babar Azam’s scores against West Indies read: 120, 123, 117, 13, 125* & 16
– Shai Hope is the leading run-getter in ODIs since October 2018 with 1132 runs in 17 innings that included five centuries, at an average of 80.85.