Pakistan have won the first Test of their series against the West Indies, but not without some drama.
Brilliant bowling from Devendra Bishoo and one of the great fourth innings hundreds from Darren Bravo saw Pakistan pushed close in a match where it seemed the West Indies had been batted out of. In the end Pakistan emerged winners by 56 runs, a result that was far narrower than anyone would have thought possible for the vast majority of the five days over which this Test unfolded.
Test cricket is a very strange sport. It can have long stretches of nothing happening, and that nothing arriving slowly. Then, almost by accident, the whole thing unfurls into moments of the purest sporting drama. When such an ending occurs is sucks people in and holds their gaze for hours in the same way the opening exchanges had repelled them. For those that are there to witness these brilliant scenes at the climax of a Test, at the ground or on TV, the boredom that went before is quickly forgotten, in the way that the human brain forgets how awful a hangover is when you are offered a fourth glass of wine.
The first three and a half days of the West Indies versus Pakistan Test match in Dubai was historic, just the second day-night Test made sure of that, but it was deadly dull. Yes, it was enjoyable to watch Azhar Ali make his way to 302 not out. And it was great to see Yasir Shah reached 100 Test wickets in just 17 Tests as he claimed 5 for 121 in West Indies' first innings. But the actual contest itself was not really a sporting one.
The first three days saw 894 runs scored for the loss of just nine wickets at a rate of 3.5 runs an over. It was objectively uninteresting and seemingly destined for a draw. Then on the fourth day it all went completely crazy as the match burst into life like a bear who has been disturbed mid-hibernation.
First the West Indies lost their final four wickets for 42 runs to concede a first innings lead of 222. Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s somewhat talismanic leader, decided against the follow-on and Pakistan went out to bat. They clearly had scoring quickly in their minds, but their second innings was like a TV pilot that can’t decide if it was a comedy or a drama. While any turn that had been on show for the first two days was slow and early Devendra Bishoo, the West Indies’ leg-spinner, got the ball to spin fast and late.
Pakistan were guilty of failing to reassess. Run-making was still possible on a surface that was trickier than on Days one and two, but far from a minefield. But runs were not going to be made with cross batted swipes against a spinner who was getting real purchase.
Bishoo was fantastic, almost toying with the Pakistani top-order as he picked up 8 for 49, the best ever figures by a visiting bowler in Asia, but Pakistan were profligate with their wickets. Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s coach, was clearly unhappy with his batsmen, and said as much at the end of Day four.
“I am not going to take anything away from the way Bishoo bowled because he bowled really, really well," Arthur told the press. "I thought we gave him eight soft wickets. We were cutting against the spin, some lazy shots.”
Those “lazy” shots saw Pakistan shot out for 123. It meant that the West Indies would be chasing 346 to win on a pitch on which the top seemed to have gone. It was a achievable total in theory, but they would be chasing it down facing Yasir Shah, the best leg-spinner in the world. Bishoo’s excellent returns had given his team a chance, but realistically it was a remote one.
But it was a chance nonetheless, and the way the West Indies set about chasing down the total was brilliantly to their credit. This tour of the UAE has been a chastening one for the men from the Caribbean. They have lost the ODI series and the T20s 3-0. Six defeats on the bounce would dent anyone’s confidence, but with their coach Phil Simmons fired just a few days before they set off, the West Indies were at something of a low ebb.
Curtly Ambrose, former West Indies fast bowler and bowling coach, summed up the feelings of many when he questioned the timing of the call to dispense with the services of Simmons.
“The morale of the team can’t be good because when you would have at least had a camp and then you learn one or two days before departure that your coach isn’t going to be around because he’s been fired, it must send the wrong message.”
That lack of morale showed in the ODIs and T20s, and while this Test ended in defeat it at least demonstrated that the West Indies are a team that will make you work for a victory, not one that is capitulates at the first sign of struggle.
Bravo was simply brilliant from the moment he arrived at the crease with his side 27 for one and still 319 runs short of victory. Having made 87 in the first innings, Bravo had quite the match. While the first innings effort was a fine one, the way Bravo handled both the bowling and the pressure batting last against a side that was until last week ranked number one in the world was wonderful to watch.
There is no doubting the talent that Bravo possesses, and when he made his Test debut six years ago, his maiden innings of 58 made you think he could be something really special. His 80 in his next trip to the crease only confirmed that. But he has never been consistent. His career average of 41.11 is a decent enough record, but for a man of such obvious gifts you can’t help but feel disappointed in that number.
In conjunction with Leon Johnson, Royston Chase and Jason Holder, it looked like Bravo would play the monumental innings that he has so long been capable of. He was cruising on 116 from 248 balls when he fell, and with him the chances of a West Indian win departed. He drove at a fuller ball from Yasir and a thick outside edge was brilliantly caught by the bowler. When he went the West Indies were just 83 runs from victory. If Bravo had been there at the end you feel the West Indies would have won.
It wasn’t to be, but this performance to come back from a first innings deficit of 222 shows that there is still a beating heart and a lot of talent in this West Indies team. It is a shame that the administrators that run the game in the Caribbean could not have showed the same amount of nerve in sticking with Simmons until after this tour.