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WI v PAK, 2nd Test, Day 5 Review: West Indies pacers script a near-impossible victory in Bridgetown

It took West Indies just 34.4 overs to steamroll through Pakistan’s batting line-up.

Jason Holder of West Indies
Jason Holder of West Indies jumps to celebrate the dismissal of Misbah ul Haq. (Photo by RANDY BROOKS/AFP/Getty Images)

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…’ Perhaps this might seem as an appreciation of the stirring lines that opened one of the greatest works in the English language. But if Charles Dickens would have had the opportunity to review the Bridgetown Test, he would have probably stuck to his words in his novel. For this was indeed a tale of two, not cities, but cricketing nations, who went through a bizarre day of Test cricket. For West Indies, it was ‘the spring of hope’, but it very much was ‘the winter of despair’ for Pakistan.

Kensington Oval gobbled its second victim for the cursed score of 81. It devoured India twenty years ago, a side which then had five of the world’s most reputed Test cricketers in the form of Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Azharuddin. A Brian-Lara-led West Indies team had set India a mere 120 for a win. It took the Windies just 35.5 overs to pile-drive through a dazzling batting line-up as India were bundled out for 81. Setting the clock back to 2017 now, a contrasting West Indies side went on to skittle another Asian heavyweight Pakistan. The scorecard was once again frozen at 81.

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Bizarre is the only adjective that can reasonably describe the turn of events in Bridgetown. For the first four days, the hosts were dominated by a set of inspired spells of pace bowling. Playing in his second Test, Mohammad Abbas led the way with a four-wicket haul in the first innings. He added two more to his tally to restrict the West Indies to 268 in the second. Mohammad Amir, who’s turned over a new leaf, was vicious with both pace and swing. Severe damage was however done by Yasir Shah, who exploited a steadily deteriorating pitch at the Kensington Oval. The leggie was over the moon to have a total of 9 scalps through the course of the game.

Hence, it was presumable that Pakistan, despite having rocklike batsmen, would face some trouble off the pitch as well. What wasn’t on the cards though was that it would entirely be a seamer’s feast. Chasing 188, Pakistan grew weak in the knees as the Windies pacers pounced upon the visitors. Tentativeness was the prevailing approach in all of Pakistan’s batsmen. They played in fear of the pitch spitting deliveries at them and succumbed.

After the first 6 overs of the chase, Pakistan were at 6 without loss. Azhar Ali set off the procession in the very next over as he tried to pull a short delivery from Shannon Gabriel. The shot was utterly mistimed resulting in the ball going straight to midwicket. Babar Azam attempted to glance a delivery drifting down leg-side, only to edge it safely into the keeper’s gloves. Pakistan then lost the big fish Younis Khan who expected a bouncer but couldn’t make the last moment adjustment to a ball that kept low, rapping him on the pads. Hawkeye confirmed that the ball would have crashed into leg stump to force Younis off the field.

Pakistan’s situation at 27/3 was tailor-made for skipper Misbah ul-Haq, who is the go-to man in times of crisis. However, this wasn’t meant to be his day as he departed without troubling the scorers after spending 15 minutes out in the middle. A couple of deliveries later Gabriel removed Asad Shafiq. The late movement was causing havoc at the Kensington Oval.

Ahmed Shahzad, who was riding on excessive luck throughout this Test, was joined by Sarfraz Ahmed. What bothered Pakistan was that this was their last recognized batting pair. The duo went into lunch with the visitors struggling at 35/5. The meals served at midday didn’t make the slightest difference to Pakistan’s batting, as the parade continued. A stunned silence prevailed in the Pakistan dressing room as they were reduced to 36/7, much to the delight of Windies fans who were dancing in the aisles and the stands.

A ray of hope came in the form of a steady partnership between Sarfraz and Mohammad Amir. The duo added 42 in quick time, before Amir played a loose shot. The left-hander was tempted by a fuller one outside off and Amir gratefully slashed at it. Nevertheless, the ball went straight down backward point’s throat. Shannon Gabriel then picked up a five-for as he rattled Yasir Shah’s stumps. Captain Jason Holder fittingly pulled the plug on Pakistan’s innings by dismissing Sarfraz Ahmed.

History had almost rewritten itself, as it took West Indies just 34.4 overs to steamroll through Pakistan’s batting line-up. A fifth-day track with a wealth of cracks didn’t see the use of a single spinner, such was the potency and the application of the Windies pacers. Of course the unpredictability of the pitch had its share in the result of the game. Nevertheless, full marks to the bowlers who hit the good lengths and bamboozled an otherwise sturdy Pakistani line-up.

With the series squared at 1-1, it is destination Dominica for both teams. The third and final Test match is certainly going to be a cracking contest. A swan-song for two of Pakistan’s most prolific and decorated players is what the visitors will shoot for, while Jason Holder will look to be the captain to lead his team to a long-awaited series victory. The two sides might well go on to script another absorbing Test match and thus prove that the longest format of the game is still far from its sunset days.

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