Roach, Seales in spotlight as West Indies sneak home ahead of Pakistan

Late on Day Four of a see-saw First Test at Sabina Park on Sunday, Kraigg Brathwaite’s West Indies held their nerve and rode their luck to eke out a narrow one-wicket win over Babar Azam’s Pakistan.

In a low-scoring game, number 9, Kemar Roach, and number 11, Jayden Seales, came together with their team still needing 17 runs to seal what should have been a comfortable victory. But when Roach drove Hasan Ali through the covers and the pair completed an easy two, the West Indian team and their supporters everywhere first breathed a huge sigh of relief before letting their jubilation all come out.

Photo: West Indies tail-ender Kemar Roach (left) is congratulated by Jermaine Blackwood after his crucial late knock against Pakistan.
(via CWI Media)

It was an outcome that had looked more than likely at the start of the penultimate day when man-of-the-match 19-year-old Seales (5/55) cleaned up the Pakistan second innings tail to become the first teenager ever to grab a five-wicket haul in a Test match. But by the end of the morning session, the home side had already lost three wickets for a mere 17 runs in pursuit of a modest 168-run target and the prospect of a Pakistan win, their fifth on the trot, loomed large. 

The ebb-and-flow pattern had characterised the entire match, which was dominated by high-quality fast bowling in conditions favouring it. Pakistani world-rated spinner Yasir Shah bowled only 16 of the game’s almost 300 overs and between them the three West Indian spinners bowled only another 25.

Not one of the four—not wrist-spinner, not left-armer, not off-spinner—claimed a single scalp. 

Sent in to bat by Brathwaite on Thursday, the tourists had made heavy weather of the Sabina conditions on a pitch that generally gave encouragement to the bowlers. But after getting to 101 for the loss of half their side, they found a defiant pair in Fawad Alam (56) and Faheem Ashraf (44), who together steadied the Pakistani ship.

Photo: Pakistan batsman Fawad Alam.

But when, at 186 for six, an ill-advised attempt to steal a single cost Faheem his wicket, run out by a direct throw from side-on by an alert Roston Chase, they could add only another 31 runs to be all out before the close of Day One.

Jason Holder, who claimed the two crucial wickets of Fawad and the in-form Mohammad Rizwan, finished with 3/26 while Roach had figures of 2/47 and Seales 3/70.

The WI first innings followed a similar pattern. The sixth-wicket partnership between skipper Brathwaite, eventually run out for a patient 97 with 12 fours, and former captain Holder (58) added respectability to a scorecard that at one point read 100 for 5. 

Both Nkrumah Bonner (0 off 1 ball) and Kyle Mayers (0 off 1), so impressive in their debut series in Bangladesh, hardly detained the scorers while Kieran Powell (0 off 6) used up four balls more than the combined pair for no greater contribution. 

Chase (21 off 51) and vice-captain Jermaine Blackwood (22 off 54) both got starts in fairly fruitful half-century partnerships with the skipper. But neither could carry on to an individual half-century.

Photo: West Indies batsman Jermaine Blackwood acknowledges his half century in the second innings of the First Test against Pakistan.
(via CWI Media)

On Saturday evening, however, Babar Azam (55) gave his side a fighting chance with a battling half-century. Then the pendulum swung again—twice!—in the morning session on Sunday. 

It took just about 90 minutes for Pakistan to add 35 runs, Hasan crashing two sixes and two fours in a breezy 28. Seales would eventually have him caught at on the fine-leg boundary to claim the last three Pakistani wickets to fall and restrict the visitors’ lead to a very gettable 167.

But in the WI second innings, first innings hero Brathwaite (2 off 17) went early but after his fellow opener Powell (4 off 5). Bonner (5 off 21) and Mayers (0 off 4) again contented themselves with walk-on roles. The upshot was that, despite a typically aggressive, counter-attacking 55—with 10 fours!—from Blackwood, the Pakistanis hit back to grab the upper hand. 

At Blackwood’s departure—caught low down by second slip Imran Butt diving in front of first slip—at 111 for 6, it looked like curtains for Brathwaite’s men. And when Holder lost his off-stump to Hasan three runs later, the fat lady was humming if not quite singing full-throatedly and distant funeral bells were tolling for the WI.

Photo: West Indies all-rounder Jason Holder scored 58 in the first innings of the First Test against Pakistan.
(via CWI Media)

But Roach, in what he would later concede was uncharted territory for him, was not listening. Unlike Blackwood, he managed only a couple of boundaries in his unbeaten 30 but he defied everything that Babar Azam, ringing in the changes, threw at him, Mohammed Abbas (0/27), all-rounder Faheem (2/29), Hasan (3/37) and Shaheen Shah Afridi, (4/50), who had completely decapitated the innings. 

The 33-year-old did get a little help in the form of some uncharacteristically sloppy Pakistani fielding. At 151 for 9, Rizwan would sprint almost all the way to the fine-leg fence to pouch a skier from Jomel Warrican. But before that, he had grassed two of four chances, Abbas and workhorse Hasan in the deep the culprits in the other two cases. 

The veteran pacer, already with a bag of six wickets in the match, and his teenaged protégé, whose haul was eight, made them pay, converting the formerly funereal procession into a jubilant West Indian celebration.

No one has as yet seen the programme notes for the Second Test which starts at the same venue on Friday. But it is a safe bet that the director would require a stroke of absolute genius to come up with a better script. 

Photo: West Indies pacer Jayden Seales claims the match ball after taking 5/55 in the second innings of the First Test against Pakistan.
(via CWI Media)

Match Summary

Toss: West Indies

Pakistan: 217 (Fawad Alam 56, Faheem Ashraf 44, Jason Holder 3/26, Jayden Seales 3/70, Kemar Roach 2/47) & 203 (Babar Azam 55, Jayden Seales 5/55, Kemar Roach 3/30) 

West Indies: 253 (Kraigg Brathwaite 97, Jason Holder 58, Shaheen Afridi 4/59) & 168 for 9 (Jermaine Blackwood 55, Kemar Roach 30*, Shaheen Afridi 4/50) 

Man-of-the-Match: Jayden Seales

Result: West Indies win by one wicket

West Indies lead two-match series 1-0

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