ABU DHABI: Pakistan, desperate to boost their ODI rankings and buoyed by consecutive wins, will see Wednesday’s (today’s) third and final ODI against the West Indies as a must-win encounter.
Despite having sealed the series 2-0 with comprehensive victories in Sharjah, Pakistan will go all out for another win to ensure a 3-0 whitewash, a result which will give their hopes of earning direct qualification to World Cup 2019 a big boost.
At the moment, Pakistan are trailing at a dismal number nine in the ODI rankings and need to finish among the top-eight by September 30 next year to avoid the ignominy of playing in the qualification round for the next World Cup to be held in England.
A clean sweep in the series will take Pakistan ahead of the eighth-placed West Indies.
That’s precisely the reason why captain Azhar Ali has urged his troops to show no mercy in today’s dead rubber.
Pakistan will once again start as overwhelming favourites against a hapless West Indies team that has so far failed to impress during the ongoing tour.
The visitors did display a somewhat improved performance with the bat in the second ODI in Sharjah on Sunday, something that should give Jason Holder’s men the confidence when they enter the Sheikh Zayed Stadium with the hope of pulling one back. But given Pakistan’s current form and the determination to directly qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, West Indies will need to rely on more if it is to remain competitive.
“It takes time to improve things,” Azhar Ali, the Pakistan skipper, said after his side knotted up the series on Sunday with a 59-run win in the second ODI. It was Pakistan’s first ODI outing since its 4-1 defeat in England in August-September. “You need patience to lift a team. We started the rebuilding process after the 2015 World Cup and it takes one-and-a-half to two years, so we are going towards that.”
West Indies’ batsmen have looked out of place, despite showing some resistance in the second ODI. Fifties by Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels sparked a comeback but the West Indies bowlers lacked penetration and had conceded far too many earlier in the day. Phil Simmons’ sacking just before their UAE tour didn’t bode well for the team either but with a gruelling Test series on the horizon, West Indies need to pick themselves quickly.
Since their 4-1 rout against England last month, Pakistan have raised the bar, winning six consecutive matches: all of them one-sided. Their progress has been built on consistent performances from the top order, apart from Azhar.
Azhar’s role as Pakistan’s ODI captain has repeatedly been questioned of late. His batting, though, may be more of a worry. His dismissal in the second ODI was greeted by cheers from the Sharjah crowd. After back-to-back failures in the first two ODIs, Azhar will be desperate for a score of substance.
Johnson Charles came to the UAE on the back of some impressive T20 form and the experience of 42 ODIs. Scores of 7, 10, 5, 20 and 2 on this tour have only added pressure on West Indies’ middle order.
Pakistan scored 337 in the second Sharjah ODI, but the scoring rate dipped between overs 31 and 40, which indicated a lack of firepower. Umar Akmal, who last played an ODI for Pakistan in the 2015 World Cup in Adelaide, may be given a chance.
Fast bowler Mohammad Amir has returned home due to his mother’s illness. Rahat Ali could step in.
Despite the batsmen showing some fight in the second ODI, West Indies may consider rejigging their top order. Evin Lewis, who struck 100 off 49 balls against India last month, is the reserve opener in the squad. Alzarri Joseph, who replaced Shannon Gabriel in the second ODI, is likely to retain his place.
The October heat and dew will be significant factors in Abu Dhabi. The stadium is located in the middle of the desert, so gusts of wind may offer additional movement to the seamers.
The match is scheduled to start at 4 pm PST today.
–Originally published in The News