PROVIDENCE: Pakistan are looking to become the latest international side to create history on Caribbean soil, when they begin their search for a maiden Test series victory against West Indies, starting on Thursday at the Guyana National Stadium. On six previous visits, starting back in 1958, the Pakistanis have come awfully close, but they have failed each time.
The visitors share the unenviable record of being one of the two Test-playing nations not to hold a Test series victory in the Caribbean along with Sri Lanka. Pakistan have won just four of the 21 Tests they have played in the Caribbean, but there is huge optimism that Misbah-ul-Haq’s side, brimming with confidence having won the preceding One-day International series 3-2, can put this little matter to rest.
The Pakistanis have far fewer concerns about their line-up than their opponents. Though they have lost former captain Younis Khan to a family bereavement, there are strong signs that the batting still has backbone with the likes of Misbah, Mohammad Hafeez, and Umar Akmal.
The visitors’ bowling has been boosted with the arrival of Umar Gul, whose fast bowling will give the attack a greater edge, but the spin bowling of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, as well as Hafeez could prove decisive against typically leaden-footed West Indies batsmen. All of this means that West Indies will have their hands full trying to protect their cherished record at home against the visitors - and the internal turmoil that has bedevilled the side will not make things any easier.
The Windies have not won a Test series, let alone a Test, in just over two years, and it would require an amazing performance, or an incredible change of fortune for them to turn the tide against Pakistan. The hosts trimmed their squad to 13 following a warm-up match over the weekend, and predictably, fast bowler Fidel Edwards has been recalled following a two-year absence, and veteran left-hander Shivnarine Chanderpaul has also been included.
Edwards was sidelined by a career-threatening back injury that required surgery, and returned to serious competitive action this year, taking 22 wickets for his native Barbados in the WICB Regional first-class championship. He has not played a Test since the ill-starred tour of England two years ago, and is playing his first international match since the World Twenty20 Championship later that same year.
Chanderpaul has been embroiled in a public war of words with the West Indies Cricket Board, following his exclusion from the ODI series, which he claimed followed his refusal to retire from that form of the game. The durable left-hander will have a major challenge though. He roundly criticised West Indies coach Ottis Gibson for interfering with his approach to batting, so the relationship between the two will be closely monitored.
Australia-born left-hander Brendan Nash, the vice captain, has also been included. He has been pigeon-holed as a player for the longer format of the game, and has not played an international match since the weather-ravaged Test series in Sri Lanka last year.
The return of Marlon Samuels to Tests for the first time in three years, following a two-year international ban for inappropriate contact with an alleged Indian bookie, will also be closely followed. He warmed-up for the task with a double hundred in the practice match over the weekend, but his batting during the ODIs seemed to betray him.
Since the ground opened four years ago just ahead of the 2007 World Cup, the pitch plays typically slow and low, but Sri Lanka, batting first, piled-up a big first innings total, and pressured West Indies for the remainder of the only Test that has been played here, resulting in a 121-run victory. As always, the match will be contested with one eye on the skies due to Guyana’s famously fickle weather, with a 60 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms predicted in the long-range weather forecast.
West Indies (from): Darren Sammy (captain), Brendan Nash (vice captain), Devendra Bishoo, Carlton Baugh Jr, Darren Bravo, Shiv Chanderpaul, Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Lendl Simmons, Devon Smith
Pakistan: (from): Misbah-ul Haq (captain), Abdur Rehman, Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, Hammad Azam , Junaid Khan, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Salman, Saeed Ajmal, Tanvir Ahmed, Taufiq Umar, Umar Akmal, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz, Younis Khan
Umpires: Billy Bowden (NZL), Tony Hill (NZL)
TV umpire: Asoka De Silva (SRI)
Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (SRI).