Big picture

Pakistan are no longer the No. 1 Test team, having lost the top ranking to India, but they still retain the sense of being champions. They are set to play their 400th Test match, a landmark game in more than one way since it will be played with a pink ball, under lights, at the Dubai International Stadium. It will be only the second ever day-night Test, following the Australia-New Zealand match in Adelaide last year.

First-class matches have been played under lights in both Pakistan and West Indies, but the experience is still a new one for most of the players from both sides. The visibility of the ball post-dusk has been a talking point, particularly with the pink ball sporting a black seam, but there ismore excitement than anxiety among the players in the lead-up to the Test.

The UAE has previous experience of staging pink-ball cricket, having hosted the English first-class season-opener between MCC and the champion county under lights multiple times since 2010. Those matches, however, were all played at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Dubai is hosting its first pink-ball match, and it will be interesting to see if the stadium, which has a capacity of 25,000, can draw sizeable crowds for the Test match.

Pakistan sit comfortably ahead of West Indies in the rankings table and are playing in familiar conditions, but they will guard against complacency. They will be without their best batsman, Younis Khan, who is resting after recovering from dengue fever, and are likely to feature two debutants as well as a new-look combination with five specialist batsmen and an allrounder slotting into a five-man bowling attack.

West Indies lost their most recent Test series 2-0, at home against India, and the margin could have been worse if not for rain. They haven't begun this tour well either, having been whitewashed in both the ODI and T20 series, and it will not be a surprise if they suffer another 3-0 reverse in the Tests. But they have gained a bit of confidence from their two warm-up games, in which as many as six of their batsmen - Leon Johnson, Shai Hope (twice), Jermaine Blackwood, Shane Dowrich, Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Bravo - made half-centuries, while their bowlers also got among the wickets. It remains to be seen, though, if the No. 8-ranked Test team can make any sort of dent in Pakistan's proud record in the UAE.

Form guide

Pakistan: WLLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies: DLDLD

In the spotlight

Babar Azam announced himself with three back-to-back hundreds in the ODI series, and Younis Khan's absence will allow him to showcase his talents at Test level. Pakistan have a strong batting group, and Babar will need to extend his ODI form into his Test debut to make it hard for the team management to leave him out when Younis returns.

Darren Bravo struggled in the home Tests against India, but he will be encouraged by the fact that his overseas average (51.18) far exceeds his average at home (29.35). He comes into the series with a bit of form behind him, with an innings of 61 in the second ODI and a 97 for the West Indians in their tour game against the PCB Patron's XI in Sharjah. Legspinner Devendra Bishoo also impressed in that match, picking up a five-wicket haul in the first innings, and will be relied on to do a lot of bowling if he plays.

Team news

Pakistan's Test line-up has been fairly stable over the last few years, but they have often craved an allrounder to give them flexibility in different conditions. Mohammad Nawaz, who is likely to make his Test debut in Dubai, could be that sought-after player with his batting and left-arm spin. Babar Azam will come in for Younis Khan as he recuperates from his recent bout of dengue fever.

Pakistan (possible): 1 Sami Aslam, 2 Azhar Ali, 3 Asad Shafiq, 4 Misbah ul Haq (capt), 5 Babar Azam, 6 Sarfraz Ahmed (wk), 7 Mohammad Nawaz, 8 Wahab Riaz, 9 Yasir Shah, 10 Mohammad Amir, 11 Sohail Khan.

With half-centuries in both warm-up matches, Shai Hope has made a case for inclusion in West Indies' middle order. Marlon Samuels, who has been in poor form in Test matches of late, didn't play either game, and it will be interesting to see if he retains his place at No. 4. With Roston Chase established as their first-choice spin-bowling allrounder, West Indies will choose between Devendra Bishoo and Jomel Warrican as the specialist spinner to partner him.

West Indies (possible): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite, 2 Leon Johnson, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Shai Hope/Marlon Samuels, 5 Jermaine Blackwood, 6 Roston Chase, 7 Shane Dowrich (wk), 8 Jason Holder (capt), 9 Devendra Bishoo, 10 Miguel Cummins, 11 Shannon Gabriel

Pitch and conditions

Temperatures in the UAE have come down and the weather is likely to be cooler than it was during the limited-overs matches. Dew could be a factor, though neither side has complained about it so far. It is understood that the ground staff have used anti-dew spray on the outfield to minimise its impact and reduce the likelihood of spinners experiencing difficulty gripping the ball in the evening.

Stats and trivia

Pakistan are playing their 400th Test match. They played their first match in Delhi against India in 1952. In their 63 years and 11 months as a Test team, Pakistan have won 128 games, lost 113, and drawn 158.
Yasir Shah is five wickets short of 100 in Test matches. He has played 16 Test matches so far, and will become the joint-second-quickest to the mark if he gets there in Dubai.
West Indies have won four Tests and lost 25 while playing away from home in the last ten years. Three of their four wins have been against Bangladesh. The last time they won an away Test against an opposition other than Bangladesh was in December 2007, in Port Elizabeth against South Africa.

Quotes

"I think there could be no better time than this to make his Test debut. He has played mature innings and has developed well. He has played well not only here but also in New Zealand and looks a good prospect."
Misbah-ul-Haq on handing Babar Azam a Test debut

"We obviously went down in our last series, but it is a fresh series here and we had a pretty good lead up to this Test series. We have been here quite a while and most of the guys had a good camp in the Caribbean."
Jason Holder doesn't think his team's poor showing at home against India will have a bearing on this series

Courtesy Cricinfo