KARACHI: If being shorn of their top players due to injury or otherwise wasn’t enough for the West Indies, Covid-19 has robbed them of three more players for the Twenty20 series against Pakistan starting from Monday.
Pacer Sheldon Cottrell and all-rounders Roston Chase and Kyle Mayers all tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday night, reducing the 15-man travelling party for the three T20s to 12.
From those remaining ones, only batter Rovman Powell and bowling all-rounder Odean Smith have any experience of playing in Pakistan — the duo being in the West Indies team which last toured the country in 2018.
But for skipper Nicolas Pooran, who is only leading the side after Kieron Pollard failed to recover from an injury, it’s an opportunity for fresh faces to come to the fore.
“Obviously Pakistan are playing very good cricket and are at the top of their game,” Pooran said during a virtual news conference on Sunday about Babar Azam’s side who come into the series with a 3-0 whitewash of Bangladesh which followed their barnstorming run into the semi-finals of the Twenty20 World Cup.
“But this is T20 cricket and it can be anyone’s game. Even the top players can have a bad day so I’m not too worried about the inexperience of my side. Of course we understand the Pakistan will have the crowd behind them but at the end of the day it’s a game of cricket.”
After West Indies’ disappointing T20 World Cup campaign, where they exited in the group stage in a meek surrender of their title, star all-rounder Dwayne Bravo hung up his boots while swashbuckling opener Chris Gayle also hinted he was headed towards retirement.
Shimron Hetmyer, Evin Lewis, Lendl Simmons, and Andre Russell opted out of the Pakistan tour due to personal reasons and from the World Cup squad, only Pooran and Oshane Thomas remain with Chase sidelined by virus.
“It’s very unfortunate that we had the Covid-19 cases,” Pooran said. “It has affected our original plans but now the other guys have the opportunity to showcase their talent. I want to see how we play together and I’m excited to see what’s going to happen.”
Babar, meanwhile, warned his side against dropping their guard against the West Indies despite starting the series as heavy favourites.
“We are not going to take them lightly because they didn’t bring their best players,” Babar told a virtual news conference on Sunday.
“Those who are here are of international standard … they’ve played in the Caribbean Premier League and international matches as well so we have to give our 100 per cent.
“We want to carry the momentum and the confidence that we have gained during the World Cup and the tour of Bangladesh.”
He sympathised with the West Indies, who are carrying on with the series despite the positive virus cases.
“It’s a difficult time for a team when a player tests positive,” Babar said. “It’s difficult to live in isolation and we have gone through this. Lots of negative things do come in your mind when you are alone in the room and the team combination also gets affected.”
Babar has led from the front with his runs with Pakistan having won eight of their last nine T20 Internationals — the only defeat coming against eventual T20 World Cup champions Australia in the semi-finals.
Babar was also hopeful that the West Indies series will aid the return of international cricket in Pakistan.
Pakistan cricket was rocked in September when New Zealand abandoned their tour due to a security alert in September with England withdrawing their team from their series in October.
“It is important that this series is going ahead,” said Babar, “and we appreciate West Indies for coming to play because there were fears whether teams will tour Pakistan or not.”
With the government allowing full capacity crowds at the National Stadium for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, Babar was hopeful fans will get to see some quality cricket.
“I’m sure with 100 per cent crowds allowed, we will have entertaining cricket,” he said, with the second T20 coming on Tuesday and the final game of the series being played on Thursday, ahead of the three-match One-day International series.
PAKISTAN: Babar Azam (captain), Shadab Khan, Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Haris Rauf, Iftikhar Ahmed, Khushdil Shah, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shahnawaz Dahani, Usman Qadir
WEST INDIES: Nicholas Pooran (captain), Shai Hope, Darren Bravo, Dominic Drakes, Akeal Hosein, Brandon King, Gudakesh Motie, Romario Shepherd, Odean Smith, Oshane Thomas, Hayden Walsh Jr, Rovman Powell.
Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2021