|Banned Pakistani pacer Mohammed Asif leaves the Gaddafi after practice in Lahore on Friday. (Picture above) Captains Inzamam-ul Haq and Brian Lara with the trophy on Friday, the eve of Pakistan’s first Test with the West Indies. (AFP/AP)
Lahore: Brian Lara, Test cricket’s most prolific scorer, will return to the scene of his debut on Saturday for the first of a three-Test series against Pakistan as his side seeks just their third Test victory since 2004.
Lara, 37, who made his debut at the Gaddafi Stadium 16 years ago, will be desperate to halt a miserable run that has seen the West Indies lose 15 of their last 22 Tests since beating Bangladesh at home in May 2004.
Lara himself has mustered just 687 runs in his last 22 innings, including seven runs in four innings against New Zealand earlier this year.
The West Indies have won just one of their six Test series in Pakistan — under Clive Lloyd 26 years ago.
Lara hopes his team can apply enough pressure to open some cracks in a Pakistan line-up depleted by the doping bans on Shoaib Akhtar and fellow-fast bowler Mohammed Asif for using nandrolone.
“Putting them under pressure will be the key,” Lara said on Friday. “Of course, it’s unfortunate for them that they’ve got two of their strike bowlers missing.”
“It’s an opportunity now for us to take ourselves out of that hole and I’m very optimistic about the future. I can’t worry as much about the past: that is dead and buried. We’ve got to worry about what’s in front of us and we’ve an opportunity to beat Pakistan in Pakistan.”
The West Indies surprised some higher ranked teams in the ICC Champions Trophy when they qualified for the final before going down to world champions Australia. But Lara said it is in Tests that he wants the West Indies to reverse their fortunes.
“Lots of people are concentrating on the one-day game at the moment with the World Cup coming up, but we all know that Test cricket is really what it’s all about,” Lara said. “We are hoping that with the confidence we have gained in the one-day arena, we transform it into Test match arena.”
Despite the absence of Shoaib and Asif, Lara remains wary of Pakistan’s bowling attack including leg-spinner Danish Kaneria and paceman Umer Gul.
“They are very good team — especially at home,” Lara said. “We know we’ve got to play extra hard... They are the major force to be reckon with at home. They have the armoury to beat international teams playing in Pakistan and I do rate them highly.”
The bans have not been ideal preparation for Pakistan, captain Inzamam-ul Haq said.
“Definitely these things are not ideal... but we have to handle the pressure as these things are part of life,” he said. “We will miss our two key fast bowlers, but we have played international cricket without them in the past and have won matches.
“There is pressure on us. Still I see no reason why we can’t go out and perform well. We should not have to make excuses,” Inzamam said before dismissing speculation he would retire after the World Cup. “I don’t see this as my last home series. I think I can continue to carry on as long as I am fit and keen on the game.”
Inzamam, who was banned for four ODIs after the Oval Test’s forfeit fiasco in August, singled out his Lara as a major threat.
“He can change the complexion of the game single-handedly. We will be going after him early in the series so that he can’t settle down. We have plans for him.”
In-form West Indies opener Chris Gayle, who scored three centuries and was named Player of the Champions Trophy, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul have been suffering from stomach upsets, but Lara said both key batsmen would be fit for the opening Test.
Pakistan (from): Inzamam-ul Haq (captain), Mohammed Hafeez, Imran Farhat, Yasir Hameed, Younis Khan, Mohammed Yousuf, Shoaib Malik, Abdur Razzaq, Faisal Iqbal, Kamran Akmal, Shahid Nazir, Umer Gul, Samiullah Niazi, Danish Kaneria, Abdul Rehman.
West Indies (from): Brian Lara (captain), Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Daren Ganga, Lendl Simmons, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Runako Morton, Dwayne Bravo, Denesh Ramdin, Corey Collymore, Fidel Edwards, Daren Powell, Jerome Taylor, Omari Banks, Dave Mohammed.
Umpires: Simon Taufel (Aus), Asoka de Silva (Sri). TV: Nadeem Ghauri (Pak).
Match Referee: Roshan Mahanama (Sri).