Writing in his exclusive blog for PakPassion.net, the renowned West Indies cricket commentator looks forward to the upcoming Test series between West Indies and Pakistan and wonders if the visitors have the resolve and the resources to complete a first ever Test victory in the Caribbean.
By Fazeer Mohammed (17th April, 2017)
There’s always a first time
Most Test teams coming to the Caribbean these days expect to win, and win handsomely.
Long gone are the days of West Indies dominance everywhere and virtual invincibility at home. Yet it was Pakistan, in 1977 under Mushtaq Mohammad’s leadership and again in 1988 when Imran Khan was the helm, who gave as good as they got and pushed the most formidable unit the game has ever known to the limit.
Many Pakistani players of that era remain convinced that more competent umpiring would have seen them make history by taming the rampaging lions in their own den, especially on the latter occasion. That was also an issue at the end of the 2000 series when contentious decisions and a missed run out opportunity that must still haunt Saqlain Mustaq allowed the home side, already in the throes of a steep decline, to escape with the narrowest of wins in the match and the series.
So it is reasonable to think that now, with the West Indies still deep in the doldrums at both Test and One-Day International level, Pakistan would be the overwhelming favourites to finally return with a Test series triumph and so leave Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe as the only nations never to have won a Test series in that part of the world.
With Misbah-ul-Haq’s team having sampled life at the top of the international Test rankings as recently as five months ago, and given the perennial struggles of Jason Holder’s men to develop any sort of consistency, the upcoming three Tests in Jamaica, Barbados and Dominica really should be viewed as a no-contest in favour of the visitors.
Yet if there is one thing that all these years of following the international game has shown us it is that both Pakistan and the West Indies are infuriatingly inconsistent. For fans of both sides, running the gamut of emotions from anguish to ecstasy comes with the territory. Their duel in the desert of the United Arab Emirates last October and November further complicates the picture as to what can be expected by the time the final ball is bowled in Kingston halfway into the month of May.
On course for a treble of clean sweeps in the T20I’s, ODI’s and Tests, Pakistan played sloppy cricket as much as the West Indies lifted their game, with opener Kraigg Brathwaite particularly outstanding with unbeaten innings of 142 and 60, to complete a consolation victory in Sharjah.
Hardly anyone in Pakistan cricket could have possibly contemplated that the defeat at the end of that campaign would be the first of six in a row, for such was the level of confidence ahead of two Tests in New Zealand that most speculation at the time was not about coping with the Black Caps – that was taken for granted – but how they would fare against Australia.
Much of what now appears to be complacency ahead of taking on the New Zealanders centred around the fact that Pakistan had not lost a Test series there for more than 30 years. Well, they learned the hard way that there is always a first time, and the coming campaign will give a clearer picture as to whether the team is still reeling mentally from those embarrassing setbacks in the Southern Hemisphere or if it has given them greater resolve to break new ground by completing an historic series victory in the West Indies.
There is certainly the talent available. In fact, there is always the talent available, but the challenge for the retiring captain Misbah, coach Mickey Arthur and other senior influential persons in the squad is to keep the team focused on the job at hand and not be distracted by peripheral issues, especially the corruption scandal that erupted during the Pakistan Super League and has resulted in several players being prevented from leaving Pakistan and England respectively.
Already struggling to achieve consistency and potency, West Indies look set to go into the Tests without premier batsman Darren Bravo, who is not being considered for selection until he apologises for his disparaging Twitter comments about Dave Cameron after the West Indies Cricket Board president justified the decision to award the left-hander a “C” grade contract for the next 12-month period following the UAE tour.
It was Bravo’s excellent hundred under lights in Dubai that gave the West Indies a fighting chance in the first Test last October and so far in the regional first-class competition, no potential replacement has really emerged.
While the cricket may not be of the very highest quality, the three-Test series, coming as it does after the T20I’s and ODI’s again, promises to be intriguing if not exhilarating. Whichever way you look at it though, the onus will be on Pakistan to justify their higher ranking in a part of the world where what-could-have-been was a familiar refrain from previous trips.