CHRISTCHURCH (TIP): Two teams that need to win to stay alive in the 2015 ICC World Cup will meet at Hagley Oval on Saturday, but that is not the only similarity between them. Both are missing influential players, both are creaking from instability and both are coming off dramatic losses. Welcome then, to West Indies versus Pakistan in game ten of the tournament. Not an ordinary fixture by any regards.
In one corner, the cornered tigers -Pakistan. Led by Misbah-ul-Haq, 40, and in his final World Cup. In the other – West Indies, led by Jason Holder, 23, in his first World Cup. Holder is only 27 ODIs old – having led in six – with questions being asked as to why he was saddled with the responsibility of leading an unstable side. Misbah is in New Zealand just months after his batting form and a series of losses prompted calls for his removal. Two men at opposite ends of their careers, but with the task of leading two of the most frustrating teams in world cricket.
Pakistan occupy bottom place in Pool B, with West Indies on level higher owing to a better net run-rate. Both must win, and both captains had their own views on what it will take to outdo the other.
“To stop teams to under 300, you need to back your field placements and take wickets,” said Misbah on Friday. “Defending 300 or hoping to keep teams to under 300, you must take wickets in the middle overs and up front. Regular breakthroughs are the key. If six or seven batsmen bat well, 300 can easily be made and chased. Our focus will be wickets.”
Considering West Indies’ struggles against spin – the Irish trio of Andy McBrine (10-1-26-0), George Dockrell (10- 0-50-3) and Paul Stirling (6-0-33-0) played important roles at Nelson – Misbah was asked if he would pack his side with another spinner, but his reply was a ready one: “We don’t have four spinners. Let’s see the final look of the pitch and decide.”
Two possible changes to Pakistan’s XI could be shifting veteran Younis Khan, who was oddly promoted to open against India despite having not batted in that role since 2009, back to No 4 and playing Sarfraz Ahmed as wicketkeeper instead of Umar Akmal.
Younis had only twice opened in and ODI in his 262-match career – in 2004 and 2009, making 0 and 4 – before the India opener where he made 6. But a closer inspection of his numbers since he was recalled to the team in late 2014 show the apart from one century against New Zealand in the UAE, he has scores of 4, 6, 35, 12, 9, 11 and 6. Not the kind of form to put forward when your place in the team is on the line, no matter your experience. Should Younis be dropped, it is foreseeable that Nasir Jamshed slots back into the team at the top.
Asked about Younis and Umar Akmal’s roles in the side, Misbah presented a straight bat. “You can’t say after one game. We’re not panicking. We’re looking into all matters very closely and want to go with a composition that can win us the next game and all those to follow,” he said.
As far as West Indies are concerned, they will need to be far better in the field. To make 304 for 7 from the depths of 87 for 5 and then lose to Ireland with 25 deliveries left in the match would rankle, no doubt. They will hope that left-arm spinner Suleiman Benn is back to fitness – he bowled a fair deal during training yesterday and today – in order to attack a team that has its problems against spin. Benn looks good to return, meaning that Kemar Roach, who was expensive against Ireland, could miss out.”Pakistan lost their first match against India, we’ve both started the campaign with a loss. It’s important that we take this game very seriously, as we did in the first couple of games we had, said Holder. “Got to execute our plans. What is clear for us is that if we do that, and do what we want to, then we can be very successful. It’s about being consistent.
These two teams last met for ODIs in the Caribbean in July 2013, a series that Pakistan, under Misbah, won 3-1. Then, Misbah top-scored in the series with 260 runs at 65, with four fifties in five innings. An encore would put Pakistan in a good spot, with some help from his talented team-mates.