Pakistan v West Indies - Intriguing Match-up
Colin Croft - 16 April 1999
Everyone in cricket circles know that when Pakistan's cricket team plays well, their talent and tenacity would probably easily blow away any other cricket team in the world. Pakistan has this great ability to throw off whatever negatives are going on around the team and play well.
Similarly, when Pakistan play badly, they are really poor. It could also be fair to say that no other team in the world possesses such possibilities of greatness from a such a bunch of very gifted, but tremendously unpredictable players. Pakistan's problem is that no-one knows exactly which particular psyche the team will have when it turns up. Under new, yet experienced Coach, and former captain, Mustaq Mohammed, and one of the world's best fast bowlers, Wasim Akram, we all wait to see how this team will mesh.
The West Indies, on the other hand, does not possess nearly as much natural talent these days as Pakistan seems able to furnish at a flash. However, the Manager, Clive Lloyd, the most successful West Indies captain and the only one to raise the Cricket World Cup in victory, 1975 and 1979, and his extremely ambitious captain, Brian Lara, now also suggest, as the World Cup starts, that the West Indies team has much more cohesion now that it matters most, than at anytime in recent years, despite the obvious fact that they would have to rely very heavily on a few of their very experienced players for any success.
This first game for both teams in the 1999 Cricket World Cup promises to be the exploits of the mercurial Pakistanis versus the silently confident but supposedly glued together and composed West Indians.
What an interesting and very important match-up this is. One could almost suggest that whichever team wins this game could have already qualified for the Super Six stage, Australia and New Zealand, two of the better teams in Group B notwithstanding.
Recent history favours the West Indies as they beat Pakistan in the quarter finals of the Wills Mini World Cup in Bangladesh last year at Dhaka. However, in the real World Cup itself, the teams are more even in results, though West Indies would have a slight psychological edge.
The Pakistanis, players and supporters alike, would never forget the epic 1975 semi-final against the West Indies which finished after nine at night with the unlikely pair of Andy Roberts and Deryck Murray bring the West Indies home. The 1979 semi-final was also tight, dominated by Zaheer Abbas, Majid Khan and Gordon Greenidge. In 1983, West Indies won more easily in the semi-finals, by 8 wickets, trying for a three-peat that was not to be. In 1987, Pakistan and West Indies beat each other once in the preliminary games, the Pakistanis again losing in the semi-finals, this time to Australia. Pakistan's finest hour was winning the 1992 tournament by beating England in the final. Strangely, after such close affiliations, the West Indies and Pakistan did not meet in the 1996 tournament. 1999 could be the tie-breaker.
Wasim Akram is on form. Only recently, he took two hat-tricks in consecutive Tests against Sri Lanka. He is back in England, where he played brilliantly for Lancashire at county level. Shoib Akhtar, probably Pakistan's quickest bowler selected, would provide youth and fresh legs for Wasim and his partner of the in-swinging yorker, Waqar Younis. Azhar Mahmood, the fast bowling all-rounder, Salim Malik, Shahid Afridi and Ijaz Ahmed, Wajahatullah Wasti, all batting all-rounders, but whose bowling styles vary from medium pace to leg spin, could become a very lethal bowling attack. Leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed and off-spinner Saqlain Mustaq have had many teams deciding if they should die by ``the devil or the deep blue sea.'' Both are excellent bowling all-rounders, each getting 144 wickets, average 33.63, and 187 wickets, average a mean, brilliant 19.44 respectively. This is a very varied and productive bowling attack indeed.
Pakistan batting would be centered around Saeed Anwar, suggested by some as being the best opening batsman in the world. Despite the strange non-selection of Aamir Sohail, another with such pedigree, the rest of Pakistan's batting is very formidable. The before mentioned Afridi averages 50.41 in One Day Internationals. Ijaz Ahmed already has 5,988 runs from an incredible 226 matches and still averages 33.08 per innings. Inzamam-ul-Haq also has struck many a blow, already getting 5,867 runs from 182 games at nearly 40 runs per innings. Salim Malik has 7,152 runs in an even more astonishing 279 One Day Internationals, averaging approximately 34. Mohin Khan, regularly a rescuer when his more illustrious batting tea-mates fail, and excellent with the gloves as wicket-keeper, averages approximately 24 from his 139 games.
Whichever combination Pakistan puts out against the West Indies, it could be a match-winning one, if one goes on statistics alone. However, while on paper the West Indies does not look nearly as productive or accomplished, their recent drawn one-day series against Australia, one of the tournament favourites, would give them some great confidence to go along with that new team spirit.
Brian Lara, justifiably rated as the best batsman in the world now, has 5,629 runs at an average of 45.03 from his 141 games. Obviously, as Wasim is expected to lead his bowlers and his team, Lara is expected to lead his batsmen and his team. This is a classic match-up of bowler captain versus batsman captain.
The rest of the West Indies batting would be shared by the following: Jimmy Adams, the premier utility player in the West Indies, 81 games and 1307 runs, at a useful 30.39 average. Keith Arthurton, 104 games and 1898 runs at an average of 26.36. His bowling would also be a factor, now averaging 27.40 runs per wicket. Sherwin Campbell, averaging a steady 25.62 from his 45 games for 1153 runs, could be the West Indies rock. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, anther utility man, averages 34.79 from his 66 games for 2018 runs. New boy Ridley Jacobs recent explosive hitting as opener could augment his comforting skills as wicket-keeper. Phil Simmonds, whose 138 games have yielded 3662 runs at 29.53 and 78 wickets at 35.12 could be very useful indeed in English conditions and Stuart Williams must, sometime, justify his place, though he averages an barely acceptable 24.26 from 53 games for 1092. The loss of Carl Hooper affects the West Indies more than Pakistan's exclusion of Aamir Sohail, but another new prospect, Ricardo Powell, knows he has big shoes to fill and promises much for the future. A lot rests on the shoulders of Lara, Adams, Simmonds and Campbell.
The West Indies strengths in May could be the bowling. Courtney Walsh has 206 wickets from his 188 games at an average of 31.15. Curtly Ambrose is even better, averaging 24.01 for his 213 wickets from 161 matches. These two stalwarts would have to take the great burden of getting the West Indies through. The before mentioned Arthurton and Simmonds would be the batting all-rounders. Hendy Bryan, Reon King, Nehemaih Perry, and even Merve Dillon, with 6, 12, 5 and 16 games each respectively, are relative newcomers to the scene. However, while Pakistan's bowlers have great experience, the West Indies prefer to believe that their younger, fresher bowlers, outside of Ambrose and Walsh, are probably more suited for the fray.
Whatever happens in this first game for the West Indians and the Pakistanis in the 1999 Cricket World Cup could, should, maybe even would, have a profound bearing on Group B of the competition and would lend great confidence to the winner of the game to carry on in to the Super Six and even the semi-finals and final. While all games in a one-day competition such as this is important, a good start could be the most meaningful situation. Both of these teams will want to get the immediate advantage here from a win. This is a tough call for both teams.