A T20-Powerplay-style opening partnership between Abid Ali (29 off 23 balls) and Imran Butt (37 off 44) on Monday afternoon pushed the door open for Babar Azam’s Pakistan to level the two-match Test series at 1-1 at Sabina Park on Tuesday.
But it was Man-of-the-Match (10 wickets for 94 runs) and Man-of-the-Series (18 wickets for 213 runs) Shaheen Shah Afridi who gave his side a window into victory with his first innings 6/51 on Monday. And then led his triumphant team through the open door with another innings-undermining 4/43 on Tuesday.
Dismissed for a meagre 150 in their first turn at the crease and chasing 329 in the second for an unlikely win, Kraigg Brathwaite’s West Indies fell 109 runs short.
Fawad Alam’s unbeaten 124 in the first innings, which came on top of his 54 in the first innings of the First Test, would have helped to set the tourists up nicely early on and put the left-hander with the Chanderpaul-like stance in contention for both awards.
But it was Afridi who proved unstoppable when it mattered. And lucky to steal the First Test by one wicket, the West Indians had few answers this time when the 21-year-old and his teammates asked the most searching questions.
Babar Azam called wrong on Friday morning and Brathwaite, needing only a draw to take the series, unsurprisingly invited him to take first strike. Fawad’s chanceless century on both sides of the washed out second day put Pakistan in a position to force the pace.
The left-hander hit 17 boundaries in converting, for the fifth time in six chances, a Test half-century into three figures.
And with the WI cock-a-hoop on the first morning, he and his skipper rescued their side from the travail of three wickets for two runs to a comparatively solid 160 before they were separated. The partnership was an object lesson in how to shut bowlers out of the game, good balls consistently prevented from reaching their target, bad ones frequently dispatched to the boundary.
Fawad’s knock consumed 213 balls and Azam’s 75 174 balls but it is hard to recall a mindless waft at a widish delivery or an aerial drive from either player that gave a fieldsman a sniff.
When the skipper eventually called a halt to the innings at 302 for 9 towards the end of Day Three, pacers Afridi and Mohammad Abbas (3/44) tightened the screws early, reducing the home side to 39 for 3 in the 18 overs that the fading light allowed.
The left-hander Afridi accounted for both openers before WI reached double figures. He then claimed four more scalps on Monday to earn his career-best figures of 6/51 and leave Brathwaite’s WI in a hole, still 152 runs in arrears.
Only Nkrumah Bonner (37 off 116) and Jermaine Blackwood (33 off 50) combined for a fruitful association, taking the score from 45 for 4 to 105 for 5.
A mere 45 more came from the second half of the line-up, spelling potential trouble for Brathwaite’s men if…
The determined Pakistanis got precisely what needed at that stage. Halfway through the 10th over, their opening pair had raced to 70 before Abid Ali (29 off 23, 6 x 4) departed. Three overs later, Imran Butt (37 off 44, 5 x 4) followed him, the pair having taken 32 off the three overs delivered by the inexperienced Jayden Seales, the best performer in the first innings with 3/31.
Though the partnership had been broken, the tone was set. The momentum never really slowed.
So much so that, with over an hour left in the day’s play, Babar Azam called a halt and asked the West Indian openers to try to survive until the close.
They came with a couple of inches of so doing, Kieran Powell’s bat suspended by that distance over the crease when Afridi’s throw from the boundary cannoned into the stump at the wicket-keeper’s end.
The schoolboy error meant that night watchman Alzarri Joseph ended the day as he had begun it—at the crease. And for the second time in the game, his dismissal gave the fielding team an early boost the next morning.
Despite a fighting, gritty knock from Brathwaite (39 off 147), sixth man out after lunch, and a breezy, late 47 from Jason Holder, who hit five fours and two sixes, nothing of real substance came from the middle order. Kyle Mayers (32 off 53), who had not scored a single run in the series before this innings, Bonner (2 off 8), Roston Chase (0 off 15) and Blackwood (25 off 54) all contributed little or nothing.
And the tourists coasted to a relatively comfortable and well-deserved win.
Babar Azam praised his team for an outstanding performance, Afridi and Fawad earning special mention. Interviewer Daren Ganga had to invite the graceless West Indian skipper to offer the ritual congratulations to the opposition.
Brathwaite first volunteered that he thought ‘it’s a positive since we didn’t lose the series’ and praised Seales, whom he called ‘a star in the making’.
He seemed to completely forget the part luck had played in the First Test win and suggested that his team had ‘let ourselves down in the first innings of this match’. He made no mention of the fact that the defeat had come despite the loss of full four sessions of the five-day game.
West Indian fans will hope that, in the privacy of the dressing room, there is much more penetration.
And the analysis is both rather more honest and more insightful.
Toss: West Indies
Pakistan: 302 for 9 declared (Fawad Alam 124*, Babar Azam 75, Jayden Seales 3/31, Kemar Roach 3/68, Jason Holder 2/46) & 176 for 6 declared (Imran Butt 37, Babar Azam 33, Abid Ali 29, Alzarri Joseph 2/24, Jason Holder 2/27)
West Indies: 150 (Nkrumah Bonner 37, Jermaine Blackwood 33, Jason Holder 26, Shaheen Shah Afridi 6/51, Mohammad Abbas 3/44) & 219 (Jason Holder 47, Kraigg Brathwaite 39, Kyle Mayers 32, Jermaine Blackwood 25, Shaheen Shah Afridi 4/43, Nauman Ali 3/52, Hasan Ali 2/37)
Man-of-the-Match: Shaheen Shah Afridi
Result: Pakistan win by 109 runs
Man-of the Series: Shaheen Shah Afridi
Two-match series drawn 1-1.