MULTAN: High-flying Pakistan have their eyes set on a clean sweep against an inexperienced West Indies side as the hosts look to boost their qualifying campaign for next year’s ICC World Cup with a three-match One-day International series between the teams starting here on Wednesday.
For Pakistan, who will be back in action after two months following their 2-1 triumph over Australia in their previous one-day assignment, a 3-0 win against the West Indies will take them to third from their current 10th place in the ICC World Cup Super League standings, the qualification process for the 2023 showpiece.
While the home side will have nine more Super League matches left after the series, Nicholas Pooran-led West Indies, who are currently fourth after a recent 3-0 win over the Netherlands, will have only six of their 24 qualifying ODIs remaining.
If Pakistan end up clean sweeping the visitors, it will put the latter in danger of playing the qualifying rounds, while for the Babar Azam-led unit, securing a direct passage will become smoother.
Hosts India and seven top teams will qualify automatically while the remaining five sides will vie for the last two places later this year.
“This is an important series for us as it holds important Super League points,” Babar said in a pre-match press conference on Tuesday.
“The players have been putting in a lot of effort to prepare themselves for the West Indies challenge and we are eager to win another series and bag maximum points to consolidate our chances for direct qualification in the 2023 World Cup.”
Babar noted the visitors were not being taken lightly despite the fact that Pakistan were seeking to topple them in all three matches.
The Pakistan captain will look to carry on from where he left against Australia, against whom he scored two consecutive centuries. He will also rely on opener Imam-ul-Haq, who achieved the same feat against Aaron Finch’s men in Lahore, and on flamboyant batter Fakhar Zaman.
If their top-order fails, Pakistan will look up to the likes of wicket-keeper/batter Mohammad Rizwan and batting all-rounders Iftikhar Ahmed and Khushdil Shah.
The return of leg-spin all-rounders Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz will boost Pakistan’s bowling department, which will be spearheaded by pace sensation Shaheen Shah Afridi.
The West Indies, in contrast, will have a mountain to climb with some of their key players unavailable.
All-rounder Jason Holder is being rested while Shimron Hetmyer is on paternity leave and Evin Lewis has been left out due to fitness issues. The West Indies will also miss former skipper Kieron Pollard who retired in April.
Wicket-keeper/batter Pooran will be relying on batters Shai Hope, Kyle Mayers and Shamarh Brooks, who scored centuries in the Netherlands while spinner Akeal Hosein, who bagged eight wickets in the series, will be more than handy with the ball.
“It feels good to be here,” said Pooran. “I have confidence in our guys after we did well in Netherlands and we are hoping to continue our good performances here in Pakistan.”
Pooran and co landed in Multan on Monday with the mercury rising to 45 degrees Celsius in the city, twice as much hotter than Amstelveen, where they played against the Netherlands.
They underwent their one and only practice session on Tuesday, while Pakistan have conducted such sessions twice after arriving in the city of saints on Sunday following a four-day preparatory camp in Lahore.
Both captains believed the sweltering weather will pose a challenge but will not keep them from giving their hundred percent on the field. The matches starting in the evening might provide some relief to the players.
The heat, however, hasn’t affected the fans’ excitement as international cricket returns to Multan after 14 long years.
The picturesque Multan Cricket Stadium is expected to have its stands jam-packed as all 25,000 tickets have been reportedly sold for the second and third ODIs to be played on Friday and Sunday respectively.
Pakistan and West Indies last played at the venue, built in the city’s outskirts, back in 2006.
According to Babar’s assessment of the stadium’s pitch, there will be ample assistance for the batters and even bounce can be expected.
PAKISTAN: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan, Abdullah Shafique, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Hasan Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imam-ul-Haq, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Haris, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Junior, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shahnawaz Dahani, Zahid Mahmood.
WEST INDIES: Nicholas Pooran (captain), Shai Hope, Nkrumah Bonner, Shamarh Brooks, Keacy Carty, Akeal Hosein, Alzarri Joseph, Brandon King, Shermon Lewis, Kyle Mayers, Anderson Phillip, Rovman Powell, Jayden Seales, Romario Shepherd, Hayden Walsh Junior.
Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2022