x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Champions Trophy: Oval in the shape of things for West Indies and Pakistan

Mixed memories of today's match venue for Misbah's men as they take on the 2004 winners.

West Indies, under new captain Dwayne Bravo, centre, will aim for an encore of their 2004 triumph at the same venue. Matthew Horwood / Getty Images
West Indies, under new captain Dwayne Bravo, centre, will aim for an encore of their 2004 triumph at the same venue. Matthew Horwood / Getty Images

LONDON // West Indies will return to the scene of their Champions Trophy final win over England nine years ago when they face Pakistan in their 2013 tournament opener at The Oval today.

Both sides boast an array of talented, if not always consistent, match-winners, with West Indies fielding hard-hitting batsmen such as Chris Gayle and Johnson Charles, while Pakistan's attack features star off-spinner Saeed Ajmal.

"We can still take a lot from it [the 2004 title], regardless of the fact that nine years is a long time ago," said Gayle, who last year helped the West Indies claim the World Twenty20 title in Sri Lanka.

Left-handed opener Gayle, 33, played for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the latest Indian Premier League and caused worldwide headlines with the fastest Twenty20 century, taking just 30 balls to reach three figures against the Pune Warriors.

Gayle struck an astonishing 17 sixes and 13 fours on his way to an unbeaten 175 from 66 balls.

But it was Dwayne Bravo (71), Johnson Charles (58) and Ramnaresh Sarwan (55) who provided the bulk of the West Indies' runs in their recent warm-up win over Sri Lanka, which followed a loss in a practice match against Champions Trophy holders Australia.

"This format is more challenging, obviously, with the longer play," said West Indies captain Dwayne Bravo. "It's a longer form than T20, but like I said, we have players such as Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard; Ramneresh Sarwan is back, also Marlon Samuels is back, so you can't forget those players."

For Pakistan, the fixture will be their first competitive match in England since their scandal-wracked tour of 2010, which eventually saw Test captain Salman Butt and seamers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif banned and jailed for spot-fixing.

It was at The Oval, too, in 2006, that Pakistan became the first side in Test history to forfeit a match after they refused to take the field after they were penalised five runs for ball-tampering.

A new-look side under veteran captain Misbah-ul-Haq showed their class with a six-wicket warm-up win over Group B rivals South Africa at The Oval on Monday.

Misbah said the side had gained from their recent two-match ODI series in similar conditions in Ireland. "The ball was really moving in the air," said Misbah, who insisted his side would concentrate on the job in hand rather than be distracted by their group clash with arch-rivals India in Birmingham on June 15.

Misbah said Ajmal has the ability to confound any batsman. "Everybody knows that he's one of the best spinners in the world," Misbah said. "These kind of bowlers always love these sort of occasions, big events."

Back in 1979, West Indies beat Pakistan by 43 runs in a World Cup semi-final at The Oval. The match was in the balance while Pakistan's Majid Khan (81) and Zaheer Abbas (93) were batting against one of the most formidable fast-bowling attacks ever assembled.

It is asking a lot of today's encounter to hit similar heights, but with both Pakistan and the West Indies, the joy — and often the frustration — is that fans can never be quite sure what they will get.

* Agence France-Presse

1.30pm, CricOne