By R Kaushik in Mirpur
The final Super10 match is set to be a classic showdown between the defending champion and a team that has made the semifinals of each ICC World Twenty20 so far
On paper, there is practically nothing separating the two teams, but professional sport is not played on paper. At the end of the day, it will come down to not just skills and who wants it more badly, but which team can control its nerves, which of them can handle the pressures of a must-win game better.
Pakistan has the more experienced, more versatile, more superior – some might say – bowling attack. The West Indies has the more destructive, more attacking batting line-up, a line-up that has gradually gathered pace and, while not quite firing in tandem, is as close to that one awe-inspiring explosion as is possible. But fanciful as it is to label this a battle between Pakistan’s bowling and West Indies’ batting, it is well worth remembering that the West Indies possesses the top two bowlers, as per the ICC rankings, in Twenty20 International cricket.
For the neutrals, the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium will be the place to be on Tuesday night. Such games with so much hinging on the result seldom throw up a classic, but sometimes, very occasionally, performance can match hype, as evidenced by the thriller on Friday evening when West Indies beat Australia in one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes of this competition.
Since that emotional six-wicket victory in the last over, West Indies has had time to regroup. Darren Sammy and Ottis Gibson, the coach, wouldn’t have had the necessity to impress upon the team the need to approach the Pakistan game with the same intensity as the Australia match. Victory against Australia was required for various reasons; against Pakistan, the supercharged atmosphere will be because of the stakes involved.
In decidedly the most subcontinental of conditions, Pakistan might appear the favourite, but the West Indies isn't the World T20 champion for nothing. Colombo in 2012 was not too different from what Mirpur has been this time, and the West Indies bearded the Sri Lankan lion in its own den in the final then. There has been no great change in personnel since – astonishingly, the influential Kieron Pollard has barely been spoken about in his absence. If anything, the induction into the side of Krishmar Santokie, the little left-arm medium pacer with so much variety, has lent more teeth to an attack heavily dependent for both penetration and parsimony on Sunil Narine, the No. 1 T20I bowler, and Samuel Badree, his understudy.
West Indies will ask serious questions of a Pakistan top order still some way short of hitting peak form. Umar Akmal has had one outstanding innings and Ahmed Shehzad shook off the cobwebs with a brilliant century against Bangladesh on Sunday afternoon, but Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Hafeez haven’t quite got going. They can expect no favours from Badree, Narine and Santokie, especially if the West Indies bats first and post meaningful runs on the board, because on the evidence of the India-Australia clash on Sunday night, batting fourth will be anything but easy at the Sher-e-Bangla.
In normal circumstances, the toss could, therefore, turn out to be decisive, but there is very little that is normal when it comes to both Pakistan and West Indies. If you had to nominate two sides to buck every trend and to cock a snook at norm and tradition, you will have to look no further than this dynamic duo. West Indies has a title to defend; Pakistan, the only team to have made the semifinal in each of the four preceding World T20s, has a reputation to maintain.
The presence in the West Indian coaching structure of Saqlain Mushtaq lends another dimension to this showdown. Pakistan’s most successful spinner has been working with the West Indian tweakers for a while now, and the results have been all too apparent even if Narine, Badree and Shane Shillingford, the Test expert, all made their debuts before Saqlain linked up with the West Indian Cricket Board. From all accounts, the offspinner who gave the world the doosra has been working as much on the mind as the skills of the West Indies men. His unique take on matters cricketing can only stand the Narines and Badrees in good stead against batsmen who are as adept as any at handling the turning ball.
“I always tell my spinners that God gave us two eyes, use them,” said Saqlain on match eve. “With one eye, judge your own strength and with the other, look at the weakness of the others. You ask who the best spinners are, the ICC rankings have given the answer -- Narine and Badree. Tomorrow’s match will be won by the team with better self-belief.”
There is no shortage of self-belief in either camp. The heavy artillery is stacked in the West Indian batting, with Chris Gayle close to his wondrous best, but as India showed against a like Australian line-up on Sunday night, too much of anything, even an order replete with fearsome ball-bashers, is no guarantee for tall scores. West Indies will have taken note of the dramatic Australian implosion, but then again, so will have Pakistan. Don’t take your eyes off this one.
Pakistan: Ahmed Shehzad, Kamran Akmal (wk), Mohammad Hafeez (capt), Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Sobaih Maqsood, Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Zulfiqar Babar, Bilawal Bhatti, Mohammad Talha, Sharjeel Khan, Junaid Khan.
West Indies: Dwayne Smith, Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy (capt), Andre Russell, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Sunil Narine, Samuel Badree, Krishmar Santokie, Ravi Rampaul, Johnson Charles, Andre Fletcher, Sheldon Cottrell.