Weakened Windies target upset but security steals headlines

Veteran Twenty20 star Marlon Samuels … one of the few leading players to travel for the historic series.

KARACHI, Pakistan,  CMC – Depleted West Indies will attempt to turn the tables on a confident Pakistan side in a historic three-match Twenty20 series which bowls off at the National Stadium under presidential-style security here today, and signals a return of international cricket to the often volatile nation.

The Jason Mohammed-led 13-man outfit are bereft of the stars which helped them to the capture of the 2016 T20 World Cup in India, and will understandably start as underdogs in a contest which will be remembered mostly for its role in resuming foreign tours of the cricket-crazy country.

Pakistan have not hosted a bilateral series on home soil since militants attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan team ahead of the third day of the second Test in Lahore nine years ago, injuring several players and leaving members of the security forces dead.

But following the successful hosting of the Independence Cup involving a World XI in Lahore last September and the staging of the last two finals of the Pakistan Super League in Lahore and Karachi, the Windies have become the first international side to take up the Pakistan Cricket Board’s invitation for a bilateral series.

Over 8 000 of the security forces will be deployed at the teams’ hotels, playing venue, surrounding roadways and airport, while the Windies will be transported in bullet-proofed buses and are scheduled to make no pubic media or promotional appearances.

With the Caribbean side arriving late Saturday night from Dubai in two groups, no practice session has been scheduled prior to the opening match at 8 pm (11 am Eastern Caribbean time),

The Windies are without several key players including regular captain Carlos Brathwaite who opted out of the series because of security concerns. The likes of Chris Gayle, Evin Lewis, Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine and Ashley Nurse have all also not travelled.

As a result, four uncapped players have been including in the touring party though two of them – left-arm spinner Veerasammy Permaul and 19-year-old pacer Keemo Paul – have already played international cricket.

The 28-year-old Permaul has played six Tests and seven one-dayers but with little success and has been ignored by selectors for the last 12 months.

Paul, in contrast, campaigned impressively in the ICC World Cup qualifiers which concluded in Zimbabwe last Sunday, and was also a member of the title-winning Youth World Cup side two years ago.

Pacer Odean Smith and batsman Andre McCarthy are the completely new faces but will line up alongside regulars in veteran Marlon Samuels, leg-spinner Samuel Badree, Andre Fletcher and Denesh Ramdin – the latter of whom is returning to Windies colours for the first time since being axed from all formats in 2016.

Even so, the Windies at full strength have struggled against Pakistan of late, losing six of the last seven T20s in a bilateral series – including a 3-0 whitewash 18 months ago in the United Arab Emirates.

In fact, since their T20 World Cup success, the Windies have won just seven of 17 T20Is and are now fifth in the ICC world rankings while Pakistan have assumed top position.

Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed said yesterday that despite the missing stars, West Indies remained a dangerous side and could not be underestimated.

“West Indies are a very strong T20 side. It will be a difficult series,” he told reporters while pointing out the importance of the tour to the country.

“We should thank … the West Indies Cricket Board and their team for the tour. I hope it will be a successful tour and when they go back they will tell players from other countries to come to Pakistan.”  He added: “I am also very excited as I last played an international game here in 2008 against India. The credit goes to the whole nation and I hope they will see very good cricket.”

Sarfraz leads a strong side, the core of who have clashed with the Windies in home-and-away series in recent years.

Veteran batsman Shoaib Malik, along with dashing opener Ahmed Shehzad and the prolific Babar Azam are included as well as exciting 19-year-old leg-spinner Shadab Khan and the fast bowling pair of Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali.

The second match of the series will be played  tomorrow with the final one on Tuesday, all at the same venue.

SQUADS:

PAKISTAN – Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Ahmed Shehzad, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Asif Ali, Hussain Talat, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Nawaz, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Rahat Ali, Usman Khan Shinwari, Shaheen Shah Afridi.

WEST INDIES – Jason Mohammed (captain), Samuel Badree, Rayad Emrit, Andre Fletcher, Andre McCarthy, Keemo Paul, Veerasammy Permaul, Rovman Powell, Denesh Ramdin, Marlon Samuels, Odean Smith, Chadwick Walton, Kesrick Williams.

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