ABU DHABI // In the contest between the bat and the ball that is called cricket, there are variable factors that matter much in the modern age. The home advantage, the collective form of the team, the toss and ground conditions, especially in a day-night game, are variables that count.
As Pakistan take on West Indies on a neutral arena, these variables will come in to play more significantly than most other contests. Starving for some action back home, Pakistan will try to shake off their rustiness as quickly as possible and there will be butterflies in many stomachs when they meet the boys from the Caribbean in the first of the three one-day internationals at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium today.
But despite the neutral venue, it will still be Pakistan's party considering the large amount of expatriates staying in the capital. The Pakistan coach Intikhab Alam on arrival was banking on that to get into the winning habit. The West Indies captain Chris Gayle tried to play it down saying "the more the crowd, more the fun". However, the anxiety factor was betrayed when a senior West Indies player asked a journalist, "Will there be a decent crowd?"
The home advantage can be negated if the form book rules. And the Windies are heavy on confidence. Their recent resounding success over England in the Stanford Series has been a big morale-booster apart from the $20million (Dh75m) prize money that the team shared. "It was a huge boost to our confidence and the boys are motivated to be consistent in all forms of the game," Gayle said. Gayle also admitted that the series may have actually boiled down to a one-off match but a six-week camp preceding it was very gruelling, so much that the Windies' coach John Dyson is worried about the overkill effect. Gayle himself said it was the "most intense training" of his career. Dyson too shrugged off the issue yesterday: "We have to get down and play to our best when we take the park."
Dyson's only worry for the team was that the players were not getting big scores. "We have a balanced team. The batsmen need to be consistent though; they are getting 20 and 30s but not big ones." A flat pitch offers them the perfect platform for big scores though both sides were keen to find out about the dew factor. With the winter season approaching, the curator Mohan Singh says dew could be a factor except that it has been unpredictable so far.
"The pitch will have even bounce and carry intially, but a low bounce could come into the play in the second innings if there is heavy dew," said Singh, who has been in charge of the playing square for four years. Despite his experience he cannot predict the weather today. "Three days ago there was heavy dew but yesterday there was hardly any." Considering that there is a bit of a breeze in the evening, the safest decision would be to bat first in the afternoon heat and hope that some early swing later and dew make it difficult for the opposition.
The turn of the coin over the three matches here could well put one side in the winning direction. Game on. firstname.lastname@example.org Live on Ten Sports, 3pm.