Eyes on Pakistan as they face full-strength West Indies in pre-qualifier tussle
Pakistan players celebrate a wicket. © Cricket West Indies
It is not often a bilateral series that comes under the microscope for non-cricketing reasons. The upcoming West Indies tour of Pakistan that begins on Monday (November 8) was announced after New Zealand men, England men and women, pulled out of scheduled assignments reasoning security issues, followed by an attempt to bring Sri Lanka for a series that did not come through.
Earlier in July, Pakistan were in West Indies for a combined international and A-team series. The latter have promptly returned the favour by touring Pakistan just ahead of the ICC ODI World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe, a tournament that is crucial for both teams.
Even after the schedule was announced, more uncertainty rose when six Pakistan players tested positive for COVID-19 less than a week before the first ODI. The infected players underwent isolation while the rest of the squad proceeded with their preparation for the all-important home series.
Despite all the uncertainty and non-cricketing issues around the series, both West Indies and Pakistan will be keen to get on the field to play cricket come Monday.
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The biggest positive for the tourists is the return of Stafanie Taylor, who missed the home series against South Africa. In the absence of Taylor, their batting looked ambiguous against South African pacers. Though there were some positives, as a batting unit, West Indies failed to prosper.
However, with Taylor in the mix, Hayley Matthews and Deandra Dottin would be able to play their aggressive roles without any inhibition. Vice-captain Anisa Mohammed said that Taylor's patience is something that was missing against South Africa.
"I think what she brings to the team is patience. We don't have a lot of us who play with patience. She played for Jamaica for quite a number of years so, she has got some knowledge. And whenever you speak with her, She knows the game; she is always thinking," Mohammed said in a virtual press conference on Saturday (November 6).
Shemaine Campbelle, who is returning from injury, and the youngster Rashada Williams will be in the limelight in Pakistan. Williams had an impressive series against South Africa and would be looking to seal her spot in the eleven for the Qualifiers.
Mohammed did not seem too worried about the bowling department as the off-spinner asserted that it always had been one of their biggest strengths. "Our team has always depended on the bowling. So we are hoping the batters can put some runs on the board and give the bowlers something to work with. And also, we hope that our fielding can improve and try to help out the bowlers as much as possible."
For the hosts, the series is significant in their preparation for the World Cup Qualifiers. After head coach David Hemp took over the team in 2020, Pakistan have shown a lot of improvements in parts, but the results haven't gone their way.
They lost the ODI and T20I series against South Africa. Their tour of Zimbabwe was cut short due to logistic reasons. In West Indies, they competed well but lost in both formats. The biggest positive was the A-team's performance in West Indies.
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The upcoming series will be their first home assignment since November 2019. The last time West Indies toured Pakistan was in February 2019. The T20I series was levelled 1-1, but Pakistan won the ODI series in UAE.
Though the board have seen some promising performances from the players in the domestic competitions, the pressure will be on the senior trio - Javeria Khan, Nida Dar and Aliya Riaz to deliver. Khan was one among the six to have got infected with COVID-19. However, she seems to have recovered and is fit to play. Only 14 players are available for selection as a few players are still recovering from the pandemic.
Dar will miss the first ODI having left the bio-bubble due to the unfortunate demise of her father. In her absence, a lot will be riding on Khan and Riaz in the batting department. Much will be expected from Muneeba Ali and Omaima Sohail to put in some conistent performance for Pakistan to do well in the series.
With the ball, Diana Baig and Fatima Sana have been brilliant in South Africa and West Indies. They have provided early breakthroughs, but Pakistan were not able to capitalise on them. They rely heavily on Dar in the middle-overs. In her absence, Nashra Sandhu and Sadia Iqbal will have to step up and perform with the ball in familiar conditions.
Though it seems like a lot of uncertainty looming over the tour, especially for the hosts, the three ODIs are highly significant for both teams before they depart or Zimbabwe. Will Pakistan come out on high on Monday amidst all the adversities?
West Indies: Stafanie Taylor (captain), Anisa Mohammed (vice-captain), Aaliyah Alleyne, Shemaine Campbelle, Shamilia Connell, Deandra Dottin, Sheneta Grimmond, Chinelle Henry, Qiana Joseph, Kycia Knight, Kyshona Knight, Hayley Matthews, Chedean Nation, Shakera Selman, Rashada Williams
Pakistan: Javeria Khan (c), Aiman Anwar, Aliya Riaz, Anam Amin, Ayesha Zafar, Diana Baig, Fatima Sana, Iram Javed, Kainat Imtiaz, Maham Tariq, Muneeba Ali, Nashra Sandhu, Omaima Sohail, Rameen Shamim, Sadia Iqbal, Sidra Amin and Sidra Nawaz (wk)