West Indies steady in steep chase of 329

Stumps West Indies 49 for 1 (Brathwaite 17*, Joseph 8*) trail Pakistan 302 for 9 dec & 107 for 3 (Butt 37, Abid 29, Brathwaite 1-8) by 280 runs


The weather on day two and the farce around the wet outfield on the following day brought out the worst of Test cricket. But on day four, chasing a game to salvage the series and precious World Test Championship points, Pakistan ensured we saw the best of the grand old format, too. Shaheen Afridi, among the brightest stars in world cricket, lit up the contest with a career-best six-wicket haul in the first innings, rolling West Indies over in a little more than a session.

It allowed Pakistan a lead of 152, and permission to put on their T20 boots as they hurtled to 176 in 27.3 overs, ensuring West Indies would bat for 18 overs today, and must prevent Pakistan from taking nine wickets tomorrow if they are to cling on to the series. West Indies, mind you, need 280 more runs for a clean sweep, but on the evidence of events today, it seems a remote possibility.

The elements seemed to have conspired to lead this game down the cul-de-sac of a pointless draw, but emboldened by having nothing to lose, Pakistan made it an engrossing viewing. Afridi made short work of nightwatchman Alzarri Joseph in the morning, drawing a meaty outside edge that Azam snaffled at slip to further underscore Pakistan’s dominance in the contest.

The spell that followed was perhaps Pakistan’s most wayward, with Afridi, in particular, going too far down the leg side as he tried to exploit the angle into the right-hander. Abbas prowled and menaced, but through a combination of Blackwood’s flamboyance and Bonner’s steel, West Indies were finding a way of settling down. Hasan Ali went after the stumps, too, perhaps to exploit Bonner’s tendency to get out bowled or lbw, his mode of dismissal in six of his nine Test dismissals.

But it gave away easy runs to fine leg and the pair soon brought up the 50-run partnership for the fifth wicket. At that point, it appeared to be the hosts’ session.

Mohammad Abbas was on a hat-trick at one stage • Aug 22, 2021, © Getty Images

Abbas changed all that in two deliveries. Not exactly two, because he had worked on softening Bonner up with inswinging deliveries before moving one away that kissed the outside edge. Kyle Mayers, yet to score a run this series, saw his wait extended by another innings after Abbas went around the wicket and induced him to poke at one. West Indies were suddenly six down and Afridi was steaming in, enjoying a second wind. He went short to Blackwood, and even though the batter pulled him away for four once, he kept plugging away.

A beast of a bouncer threatened to lodge up the batter’s nostrils, and as Blackwood desperately fended it off, it flew up towards gully. Fawad Alam took an excellent catch as he leapt to his right, and both set batters had departed.

Jason Holder’s exuberance saw Abbas targeted early after lunch, going for two fours and a six off his first seven deliveries. But it was only a matter of time before Afridi got rid of him, the Bajan coaxed into playing a loose drive that only took a feather off his outside edge. Babar Azam held onto a sharp chance at midwicket to give Afridi his maiden Test six-wicket haul, and Pakistan sprinted out to bat with a spring in their step.

Abid Ali and Imran Butt have had difficult tours, but neither worried too much about their personal numbers in the manner they approached the innings. Recognising that time in this Test remains a precious commodity, they got Pakistan off to a flyer, with Abid setting the tone by smashing three boundaries off his first four balls.

West Indies, until now impressively consistent with the ball, didn’t help themselves either, allowing four byes and as many leg byes inside the first three overs as the run rate shot up to nine.

West Indies are at their best when attacking the batters, but Pakistan’s fast start put them immediately in defensive mode. Seales went for three more boundaries in his third over, and as negative, wide-line bowling seeped into the hosts’ game, Pakistan continued to press the issue. The openers and Azhar Ali fell before lunch in pursuit of further quick runs, but it didn’t stop Pakistan from bringing up the hundred in the 17th over on the stroke of tea.

Not that the break offered the hosts any respite. Pakistan continued to go hell for leather as West Indies receded further into defensive, negative tactics. It prompted the umpires to clamp down on wide bowling, but either way, the runs were flowing freely.

Hasan Ali was sent up to bash a few, and Mohammad Rizwan and Faheem Ashraf all joined the fun. When the captain Babar Azam holed out, though, he decided enough was enough, and gave West Indies the last 90 minutes of the day to survive.

West Indies’ top-order resistance came to the party for the first time, seeing off the new ball. Mohammad Abbas and Afridi weren’t quite at their spellbinding first innings best, but Pakistan would still have wanted to break through into the middle order tonight.

But Kraigg Brathwaite left everything that wasn’t on the stumps and kept out the rest, while Powell, fighting for his place in the side, took a cue from his captain and turned out his most assured performance of the series.

He would survive for more than an hour in hostile conditions, but no one will ever really remember that for how it ended. A classy cover drive from Brathwaite meant an easy three was on, and while Brathwaite jogged through to the non-striker’s end, Powell was equally blasé at the end the ball was thrown to.

Shaheen Afridi’s lob was headed directly for the stumps, and Rizwan, recognising that, let it go. Powell had never bothered to ground his bat, and a West Indies partnership Pakistan were struggling to break dissolved all by itself.

Unlike yesterday, however, there were no further wickets to fall. Nightwatchman Joseph ended the day as he started it, batting to keep his side in the game, and alongside his captain, lived to fight another day. Another day is all that it’ll take, but if Pakistan’s pace bowlers are at their best, it’ll feel like a rather long one. (ESPNcricinfo)


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