Azam, Malik inspire Pakistan’s series win
Pakistan followed up their 3-0 T20 series win by sealing the ODI series with yet another clinical display against West Indies in Sharjah.
Pakistan’s 59-run win was set up on the back of a partnership of 169 between their most and least experienced batsmen – Shoaib Malik and Babar Azam, who combined to display the art of batting through the middle overs on a slow surface, leading the side to 337 for 5, the third-highest total in Sharjah.
Azam struck a chanceless century, his second successive one, and Malik blitzed 90 as the pair strung together Pakistan’s highest stand for the third wicket against West Indies.
After opting to bat, Azhar Ali and Sharjeel Khan put West Indies under pressure from the outset. Sharjeel used his bottom hand to clear the infield regularly, collecting three fours and a six in his 12-ball 24. West Indies bounced back by removing the openers in the space of three balls.
Thereafter, Azam and Malik stalled West Indies with sound technique and calculated risks. Azam pierced the field while Malik went over it, both equally effective in collecting frequent boundaries and keeping the score moving. Sulieman Benn’s introduction was delayed, but Malik capitalised on the bowler’s modus operandi of flight and loop from around the wicket.
He struck five sixes off Benn – three in succession in the 27th over – by shimmying down, getting underneath the ball and going over the arc between long-on and midwicket. The period between overs 21 and 35 yielded 107 in conditions not suited to effortless run-scoring.
In between, Azam unfurled classy drives through cover and found gaps in the outfield to accumulate runs. After Malik carved one to point, Azam utilised Pakistan’s strong platform. His 126-ball 123 included nine fours and a six, which indicated his ability to maintain a high strike rate through ones and twos. Neither Malik nor Azam offered even a “half-chance” until their dismissals.
Towards the latter stages of the innings, West Indies seemed to stall Pakistan’s ease at finding the boundary through clever variations in pace until Sarfraz Ahmed plundered four fours in five balls in the 47th over. Sarfraz struck an unbeaten 60, but it went largely unnoticed behind Azam and Malik’s pyrotechnics.
West Indies needed to pull off the highest successful chase in Sharjah to stay alive in the series, but their innings got the same start as the four previous games on this tour: an early wicket. Johnson Charles, looking to clear the off-side infield, toe-ended a catch to cover off Mohammad Amir.
Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Bravo were forced to stabilise the chase by a combination of accurate bowling and the fear of yet another collapse. Their 89-run stand was built on some sweetly-timed boundaries and plenty of singles, but it also consumed 118 balls – not quick enough for a steep chase in arduous run-scoring conditions.
However, West Indies remained in the fight as left-handed Bravo took the onus of accelerating by attacking the left-arm spinners Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz. He struck three sixes over long-on off overpitched deliveries, two of which cleared the ground.
Hasan Ali, though, removed Bravo with athletic fielding off his own bowling. Bravo nudged a yorker towards short leg and Hasan sprung towards the ball in his follow-through, picked up while sliding, turned around and fired an accurate throw at the non-strikers end all in one swift motion.
Marlon Samuels was up against an increasing asking rate and a wily bowling side. Despite making a 52-ball 57, an innings that featured four fours and two sixes, he hadn’t done enough. Such was the enormity of West Indies’ task.
Eventually, the asking rate was too steep an ask even for West Indies’ powerful middle order. (ESPNCricinfo)
Cover photo caption: Marlon Samuels is bowled by a Wahab Riaz yorker