KINGSTON, Jamaica, CMC – Not for the first time, West Indies’ unpredictable and error-prone batting will attract all the attention when the Caribbean side face Pakistan in the opening Test of the three-match series at Sabina Park today.
In search of their first series win over their opponents in 17 years, West Indies have placed the burden on an inexperienced batting line-up with Kraigg Brathwaite, Jermaine Blackwood and Kieran Powell, the only three to have played more than 20 Tests.
Even then, the trio have played just 77 Tests among them and scored a mere nine hundreds, further underlining the tenuous nature of the batting line-up and captain Jason Holder was quick to emphasise the importance of the batsmen stepping up during the series.
Pointing to the side’s batting effort in their last Test when they beat the Pakistanis in Sharjah last November, Holder said West Indies needed to consistently hit those standards.
“We finished off the year last year quite well. We won that game in Sharjah – we batted well and we also got 20 wickets,” he told reporters here yesterday.
“In the past, we’ve been able to get 20 wickets but we haven’t been able to consistently put runs on the board. That’s obviously one area we need to pay attention to.
“The first innings total is obviously very, very important for us to start the game and then obviously set up things well for the end of the game.”
He continued: “I’ve just stressed on consistency. One thing we have spoken about in the dressing room is momentum. If we have the momentum we need to hold it as long as possible and not shift it back to the Pakistanis.
“For us it’s just to get runs on the board for the first innings and our bowlers will support us in the field.”
That Test victory in Sharjah, which broke a 19-month win-less run by the Windies, featured a brilliant unbeaten hundred and half-century by Brathwaite and fifties from Roston Chase and wicketkeeper/batsman, Shane Dowrich.
The hundred was one just one of two in the series, with the scored by elegant left-hander Darren Bravo whose continued stand-off with the West Indies Cricket Board has seen his omission for yet another series.
Bravo, who has played 49 Tests, and Jamaican Marlon Samuels, 71, are the two most experienced of the current players but with both ignored by selectors, attention will fall on the likes of middle order batsman Roston Chase.
The Barbadian will have fond memories of Sabina Park, having struck a maiden unbeaten hundred against India last August to rescue West Indies on a difficult final day, and Holder said much was expected of his countryman.
“I see him as a key member in our squad. He’s our number six batter and he also bowls quite a few overs for us,” the all-rounder said.
“Roston for me is a quality player. He’s gone back into first class cricket and he’s done well and he’s obviously showed people here on the international circuit that he can perform. I’ve played a lot of cricket with Roston as I have with many of the guys in the dressing room so I know what to expect from them.
“As I said before, it’s having the momentum and keeping it as long as possible.”
The uncapped left-handed Guyanese batting duo of Vishal Singh and Shimron Hetmyer have been called up to the squad while Powell, who played 21 Tests before taking a self-imposed break, has been recalled after three years away from the longest format.
All three arrive at this point with recent runs under their belts which Holder expects to serve them well if they are selected in the final XI.
“As I’ve said before, we just need to be consistent. The squad that we have is a very good squad, it’s a young squad and guys have been doing well in first class cricket,” he pointed out.
“It’s just about transitioning that into the international circuit now and being consistent here.”
Significantly, Pakistan have never won a Test series in the Caribbean but in recent times, have lost just three of their last 15 Tests to the Windies.
WEST INDIES – Jason Holder (captain), Kraigg Brathwaite, Kieran Powell, Jermaine Blackwood, Shai Hope, Vishal Singh, Shimron Hetmyer, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Alzarri Joseph, Shannon Gabriel, Devendra Bishoo, Miguel Cummins.
PAKISTAN – Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Ahmed Shehzad, Azhar Ali, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed, Usman Salahuddin, Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Asghar, Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas.