CASTRIES - After meeting in a lopsided World Cup quarter-final, West Indies and Pakistan begin a series of eight internationals with a Twenty20 on Thursday. Pakistan dumped the Caribbean side out of the World Cup with a 10-wicket rout in Bangladesh, but both teams are vastly changed for their very first Twenty20 at Beausejour Stadium. West Indies will miss the explosive hitting of former captain Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard, while the experienced Guyanese Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul have also been omitted.
Pollard and Gayle are both cashing in on the lucrative IPL, Pollard representing Mumbai Indians and Gayle recently signing a contract with the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Sarwan and Chanderpaul have paid for indifferent performances at the World Cup and the selectors' decision to bring in younger, fitter individuals.
The oldest member of the squad is 30-year-old Marlon Samuels, who returns to international cricket for the first time since serving a two-year ban from 2008-10 for his links to a bookmaker.
He has been prolific at regional level since his return to the Jamaica team, topping the run-scoring charts in both the 2011 Caribbean T20 and the recently concluded regional first-class season. There are four newcomers to the international scene in Samuels' Jamaican teammates Danza Hyatt and Krishmar Santokie as well as all-rounders Ashley Nurse and Chris Barnwell. Hyatt is a stocky right-hand batsman while Santokie is a left-arm seamer and yorker specialist whose record in the two Caribbean T20 tournaments has been exceptional.
Nurse is a Barbadian off-spinner who is handy with the bat while Guyana's Barnwell is a lively medium-pacer and hard-hitter down the order. Pakistan, too, have been shorn of some star quality. Seasoned middle-order batsman Younus Khan and ace fast bowler Umar Gul have been rested after playing key roles in their side's recent on-field revival, which saw them reach the World Cup semifinals before losing to eventual champion India. The spot-fixing scandal of last summer, which led to ICC bans for captain Salman Butt and fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir now seem a distant memory. New captain Shahid Afridi deserves much of the credit for the positive vibes in the Pakistan camp.
Now 31, the expressive all-rounder led from the front with a tournament-high 21 wickets in Pakistan's encouraging World Cup showing. In the absence of Younus, there is added responsibility on opener Mohammad Hafeez, who warmed up for the international section of the series with a century in the win over the University of the West Indies Vice Chancellor's XI in a 50-over contest on Tuesday. Wahab Riaz, the left-armer who took five wickets in that semifinal World Cup loss to India, should spearhead the bowling.
Pakistan also has a handful of newcomers in new wicketkeeper Mohammad Salman, all-rounder Hammad Azam, batsman Usman Salahuddin and fast bowlers Junaid Khan and Sadaf Hussain. Salman replaces the error-plagued Kamran Akmal while Azam is seen as the successor to veteran Abdul Razzaq.
West Indies: Darren Sammy (captain), Christopher Barnwell, Devendra Bishoo, Darren Bravo, Andre Fletcher, Danza Hyatt, Ashley Nurse, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Andre Russell, Marlon Samuels, Krishmar Santokie, Lendl Simmons.
Pakistan: Shahid Afridi (captain), Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, Ahmed Shehzad, Asad Shafiq, Umar Akmal, Hammad Azam, Usman Salahuddin, Tanvir Ahmed, Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Salman, Sadaf Hussain.