T20 showdown begins today

West Indies vs Pakistan 2017

– Permaul omitted from 13-man squad

These two sides have only played four completed T20 internationals since last year’s World T20, a number they are set to double in this T20 series. That might not seem like much to go on, but the scale of their contrasting fortunes in those games – Pakistan haven’t lost any while West Indies have one win in four – promises an intriguing narrative. Neither side has played a T20I since Pakistan whitewashed West Indies in their three-match T20 series in the UAE last year. Both sides, however, are going through wretched runs of form, combining to win just two of their following 17 games since then.

Jason Mohammed works on his catching

What might differentiate the teams is the mood heading into this tour. While reasons for cheer in West Indies cricket are scarce at the moment, Pakistan are in buoyant spirits after a successful Pakistan Super League, the final of which was held at a packed Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, foreign players and all. There are no less than five players in Pakistan’s squad who directly owe their inclusion to impressive performances in the PSL this season, including Kamran Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad. The dampener is the absence of explosive opener Sharjeel Khan, provisionally suspended in the wake of the corruption scandal that engulfed the PSL.

Sarfraz Ahmed during fielding drills

West Indies’ squad is an analyst’s nightmare, with teams varying wildly from one series to the next. The team that played their last T20, for example, included just two players from the side that won them the World T20 less than six months prior to that. However, the management have brought back some T20 stars for this series, with Lendl Simmons and Samuel Badree notable returnees. With Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Carlos Brathwaite and Marlon Samuels all in, this appears to be as strong a squad as West Indies could have hoped to assemble.

Carlos Brathwaite has yet to fire since being named West Indies’ T20 captain in the aftermath of that manic World T20 final against England. The four times he’s batted since, he has made 14, 18, 0 and 8. It could be argued he’s too good a power hitter not to bat higher up the order, but the West Indies side is replete with explosive batsmen, and if he is to make his mark, it may end up being lower down. With the first T20 in his hometown of Barbados, Brathwaite might just get the extra motivation he needs. From the initial 16-man squad that was shortlisted for the T20 series was trimmed to 13 for the first two matches. Explosive top order wicketkeeper batsman Andre Fletcher, all-rounder Jonathan Carter and left arm spinner Veerasammy Permaul were omitted.

Babar Azam is something of a peculiarity among Pakistan batsmen, in that he has been remarkably consistent. He has scored four hundreds in his last eight ODI games. What he could improve on is converting good T20 starts into big scores, and with him likely to open the batting in the absence of Khalid Latif and Sharjeel Khan, this is an ideal opportunity.

The Kensington Oval surface has regularly produced high-scoring T20 internationals. All completed CPL games last season produced at least one total above 170. There is a slight chance of rain in the afternoon, although it is not expected to prevent a full contest.

Pakistan squad; Sarfraz Ahmed (c/wk), Ahmed Shehzad, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Kamran Akmal (wk), Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Nawaz, Rumman Raees, Shadab Khan, Shoaib Malik, Sohail Tanvir, Usman Khan and Wahab Riaz.

West Indies squad; Carlos Brathwaite (Captain), Samuel Badree, Jason Holder, Evin Lewis, Jason Mohammed, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard, Rovman Powell, Marlon Samuels, Lendl Simmons, Jerome Taylor, Chadwick Walton and Kesrick Williams.