World Cup 2019: Why Pakistan need to be wary of the Windies in their tournament opener
Pakistan surprised the entire cricketing world when they won the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017 - the last completed ICC tournament, and also the last to be held in the UK. West Indies, of course, did not qualify for that tournament in the first place. In fact, their ranking fell so low in the next few months that they lost out a direct entry to the World Cup 2019.
The Windies had to play the qualifying tournament, and a loss to Afghanistan during the super sixes made their last match against Scotland a virtual semi-final - or a virtual final for a place in the World Cup. While the Windies batted miserably, they bowled well in defense of a low target. A controversial LBW dismissal of Richie Berrington helped their case, as they won by a narrow margin of 5 runs on D/L method - it rained soon thereafter.
Though they had made it to the World Cup, the following season was not a great one for them as they often struggled at home and overseas. But a great home series against England - which included a Test series victory and a drawn ODI series - set the tone for West Indies in this World Cup.
The team is not looking back at its past failures now, and would love to draw strength from their recent successes instead. The irony is that while both Windies and Pakistan don't begin as favorites, they are the defending champions of the two recent ICC tournaments - the 2016 World T20 and the 2017 Champions Trophy respectively.
Both teams have not had the best of time in international cricket post their ICC tournament wins. While Pakistan showed some mettle with the bat during their recent ODI series in England, their bowling was exploited by the home team and the World Cup favorites. Pakistan last won an ODI 12 games ago.
They failed to win either of their warm-up games against their subcontinent rivals as well. While the game against Bangladesh was rained out, they lost to Afghanistan thanks to a middle order collapse.
Pakistan need to find a winning formula sooner than later. While their captain Sarfaraz Ahmed impressed one and all during the 2017 Champions Trophy, his leadership would be all the more important in a tournament as long as the World Cup.
West Indies also registered big scores during their recent ODI series against England, but more importantly, won matches. They have gone with a young and flamboyant side, one that matches England for talent - if not match experience.
In their last warm-up match against New Zealand, nine of their batsmen managed scores of over 20 - all scoring at a good rate. A score of 421 against a team that contained India to less than 180 was impressive to say the least.
And that will be Pakistan's biggest challenge. While the legendary Chris Gayle - playing his fifth World Cup - is in as good a nick than ever, it's not just about him anymore. Evin Lewis - his opening partner - can outscore Gayle on any given day. Classical batsmen like Shai Hope and Darren Bravo can maneuver the innings, and power hitters like Shimron Hetmyer, Nicholas Pooran and Andre Russell can turn a one-dayer into a T20 at any point.
Pakistan's best bet could only be their traditional strength - bowling. Wahab Riaz, whose best spells came during two big days for Pakistan - the 2011 World Cup semifinal and the 2015 World Cup quarterfinal - looked good with the ball in their match against Afghanistan. Mohammed Amir bowled tightly, but Shaheen Shah Afridi was dominated by Hazratullah Zazai.
Pakistan's spinners - Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim - can chip in where their seamers don't. Not all of the Windies batsmen are great players of spin, but they will be tempted to go after the spinners. Skill and persistence can help Pakistan during such instances.
The match will be played at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, one of the high-scoring venues in recent years. England were looking to reach 500 at one stage, during their World record score of 481 runs against Australia at the same venue last year.
Whichever way the pendulum might swing, the odds of tomorrow's match turning out to be a run fest are quite high.
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