POOL B | Saturday 21 February | Christchurch | 00:00
The subcontinent meets the Caribbean in a crucial Pool B ICC Cricket World Cup clash for both Pakistan and the West Indies. Pakistan were resigned to yet another World Cup loss at the hands of perennial rivals India yet are still confident of turning things around with plenty of cricket still to be played. West Indies, on the other hand, realised the extent of their decline with a somewhat shocking loss to Ireland. The pressure will most certainly be on the Caribbean Islanders coming into this clash, knowing that a spot in the quarter-finals in now well and truly in doubt.
To Win Match (Prices to be updated upon release)
West Indies 13/10
Cricket’s nomadic nation were left deflated following their sixth straight loss to India in World Cup competition. Captain Misbah-ul-Haq could do nothing to hide his disappointment at the outcome but remained positive; Pakistan lost to India in the 1992 competition but went on to win the tournament. However, there seems to be something missing in the balance of this Pakistan side. Virat Kohli’s century, backed up by half centuries from top order batsmen Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina, propelled India to 300 from their fifty overs. It could have been worse. Pakistan did very well to restrict the opposition and pick up wickets at the death to give their batsmen something to chase. But the shelling of sloppy chances meant they were chasing more than they would’ve liked. Pakistan lost wickets with regularity in pursuit and only the captain could keep a cool head in compiling another half century in a losing cause.
The fielding of extra players in World Cup warm-up matches meant that Pakistan were finally confronted with selection headaches. The loss of Mohammad Hafeez with a calf injury prior to the tournament left them short of an opening batsman, while he has been banned from bowling following a reassessment of his action. It means that Pakistan lack an out-and-out allrounder which makes it difficult to field a side strong in both the batting and bowling departments. Nasir Jamshed was called up to open for Hafeez and has a strong record against India, but he was bafflingly left out of the side as an extra spinner, Yasir Shah, was included. Younis Khan was shunted up the order to open the batting and Umar Akmal was made to keep wicket in place of Sarfraz Ahmed, a specialist in the area. The batting shuffle did not work and it’s back to the drawing board for Pakistan at an important time in the tournament. On a positive note, Sohail Khan was pumped up from ball one and marked his return to ODIs after a three-year absence with a five-wicket haul. The inclusion of Haris Sohail also adds to the balance of the side and he should be afforded the opportunity to keep his place.
There is no kind way to say that West Indies cricket of late has been nothing short of shambolic. Due to unnecessary bureaucracy they have not travelled with their strongest side and young captain Jason Holder seems overwhelmed with the monumental task of leading a team that he has no control over. He cannot lead with any confidence knowing that the senior players are not giving it their all. How long a rope is Chris Gayle given by the West Indian selectors before he justifies his place in the one-day side? His recent record in the format is horrible and one cannot pick any player based purely on sentiment. The reverse is also true; you cannot leave your best players at home simply because they disagree with the board. One would think that the World Cup is more important than that.
Only Darren Sammy and Lendl Simmons showed any backbone in the clash with Ireland, rescuing the West Indies from a dire position of 87/5. Simmons scored a century while Sammy’s 89 was the highest score by a number seven in World Cup history. After a few lusty blows from Andre Russell, somehow the West Indies managed to cross 300 from their fifty overs. However, their remarkable and somewhat record-breaking recovery was to mean nothing, as their bowling attack could not defend the total. All of the industry in the world does not matter if you cannot leave with the points. And although they succeeded in causing an Irish wobble towards the end of the match, it was yet again a case of too little too late for a West Indian side on the brink of utter collapse.
Neither of these sides have ever played an international at Hagley Oval, Christchurch’s new stadium following irreparable damage to Lancaster Park during the 2011 earthquake. The ground hosted the opening match of the World Cup between New Zealand and Sri Lanka, the Black Caps powering to 331 in the first innings with most of their top to middle-order untroubled. Sri Lankan wickets were shared between the spinners and the seamers and this looks a good ground to set a big total. Cloudy conditions in the morning could see something in it for the seamers.
VERDICT: Pakistan 6/10
The West Indies are unravelling rapidly and at their current intensity, are unlikely to progress past the group stage. Pakistan have a tournament pedigree and also have the capacity to spring surprises against better opposition. In the West Indies they find an opponent already bruised and bloodied, on the brink of throwing in the towel. Back Pakistan to stroll to victory comfortably.