With the glittery Pakistan Super League (PSL) coming to a fabulous end, it’s time now for Pakistan to gel together to take on the West Indies in a seven-week-long Caribbean tour. Their campaign starts with a four-Twenty20 International series, beginning this Sunday.
The Carlos Brathwaite-led West Indies were drubbed 3-0 by Pakistan in September when the two sides last featured in the format. All the matches were fairly one-sided as Pakistan’s newly appointed T20I captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, continued to build a perfect captaincy record. Since the wicketkeeper-batsman has taken over the reins after a disappointing ICC World T20 in India last year, Pakistan has played four shorter-format games without losing any.
The Windies, on the other hand, have had rather rough outings since becoming WT20 champions last April. They have won only one and lost three in their five matches since. Brathwaite, who smoked Ben Stokes for four sixes to seal the shorter-format’s championship, has averaged just 9 runs with the bat since the final.
However, the presence of the ‘big boys’ in the likes of Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Samuel Badree and Marlon Samuels returning to the team promises to rejuvenate the champions.
Pollard and Narine join the team on the back of an impressive run during the PSL. The hard-hitting Pollard architected arguably the most resounding turn-around of the season with his two sixes off the last two balls against Lahore Qalandars to keep Karachi Kings’ playoff hopes alive. In his last five matches, the 29-year-old has plundered 148 runs at an average of 49.
Donning Lahore Qalandars’ colours during his debut PSL season, Narine made his presence count with his all-round performances. Known for his mystery spin, the Trini added more quivers to his bow by scoring 116 runs at a blistering strike rate of 181. He hit 11 sixes in the seven innings he batted, which accounted for 57 per cent of his runs.
Meanwhile, Pakistan has called up three uncapped players – Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman, and Rumman Raees – along with Ahmed Shehzad and Kamran Akmal for their prolific runs during the PSL. Usman Khan Shinwari also makes a return since playing only two T20Is against Sri Lanka in the UAE in December 2013.
Pakistan beat Windies 3-0 in the UAE in their last T20I series. - AFP
Shadab, who evolved into Islamabad United’s spearhead bowler after making his debut this season, bagged nine wickets - at the cost of 19 - in eight games after remaining wicketless in his first three matches His teammate Rumman Raees mastered the death bowling, recording the second-best bowling figures of the last five overs. The right-arm medium-fast bagged seven wickets in the dying moments of the innings, leaking runs at 5.79 an over. Raees, overall, bagged 12 wickets, third most this season, in seven matches at a staggering average of 13.50.
Lahore Qalandars’ Zaman grooved himself into team’s mainstay batsman this season. When the big names in the likes of Brendon McCullum, Jason Roy or Umar Akmal failed to create and impact, Zaman put his hand up. He scored at an average of 22 in seven matches. Hit only fifty came against Karachi Kings, granting his side’s only win against the arch-rivals.
Kamran Akmal topped the most runs’ chart with 353 runs in 11 matches. Despite a dream 2016-17 domestic season, it took three fifty-plus scores, including the only century of the season, for the selectors to allow him back in the national side. Shehzad picked up the form at the most-crucial stage of the tournament and hit three half-centuries in his side’s last five matches.
Shadab developed into Islamabad United's spearhead bowler this PSL. - PSL
Shehzad and Akmal, however, have the emergence of the spot-fixing controversy to thank for their return in the national side. Opener Sharjeel Khan, who had been touted as the permanent solution to the side’s opening woes, is being investigated back home along with Khalid Latif and Mohammad Irfan for their alleged involvement in the crime. The absence of the regular internationals may have changed Sarfraz’s game plan.
The Caribbean wickets tend to behave in a similar fashion as the United Arab Emirates’ which put the two sides on even ground in what promises to be an exciting series.