No one saw it coming but there it was. A humiliating 106-run loss for Pakistan in the second Test was a shock to their system in more ways than one. For a start, the seven-wicket victory in the first Test had raised hopes, prematurely as it transpired, of an early farewell gift for the departing veterans in the shape of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. The unexpected loss in the second Test to a rather unfancied opponent must have taken a few in the Pakistan dressing room by surprise but the embarrassing manner of capitulation would have left the whole team red-faced.
Such was the backdrop to the third and final Test played in Roseau, Dominica — the stakes as high as they get. To start with, the reputations of a few Pakistan batsmen was on the line as the failure to chase 188 runs on a placid wicket was not what the doctor had ordered for a batting lineup which would soon be devoid of their most trusted servants.
Then there was the deep desire to become the first Pakistan Test side to experience a series victory in the Caribbean and to restore pride after losses in the recent Test series against New Zealand and Australia. But above all, one suspects that the underlying reason behind the Pakistan team's drive in the final Test was an emotional one.
The scenes witnessed where Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan were accorded a guard of honour by the West Indies team were indeed great moments for the spirit of the game. But he would be a hard-hearted soul who would not have been moved by the importance of those moments as the stalwarts in whose able hands many a memorable Pakistan victory had been fashioned made their last walks down to the field and the pavilion.
For West Indies, this was a game which if they could win it, would signal a resurgence of their Test side. After all, winning a Test series against a former number one ranked side was not to be scoffed but they had to strike fast and swift to achieve their aim.
Jason Holder would have assumed that his best chance lay in cashing in on the visitor’s miserable batting performance in the previous Test and possibly with that in mind, he chose to bowl first after winning the toss.
The super slow-go approach that Pakistan seem to have perfected in the UAE, and is probably their trademark, was now seen in action. Shan Masood had stepped in for Ahmed Shehzad who had been given permission to attend to his ailing mother and birth of his child but proved of no use to the supremely confident Azhar Ali, losing his wicket cheaply on Day 1. Babar Azam and Misbah provided able help to Azhar as he reached his 14th Test hundred. Sarfraz Ahmed then provided his usual fireworks with a quickfire 51 to take Pakistan to a fighting 376.
Whilst Pakistan seemed to have taken an eternity to reach the total, with rain playing some part in the slowdown, it was up to the West Indies batsmen to dictate the course of the game. A slow approach which would eat up time would have been the preferred way if the salvaging of a drawn series was the objective.
But one sensed a renewed self-belief in the team given their performance in the second Test and it seemed to translate into the home side’s batting display which seemed to be paying dividends by the end of Day 3.
Of course, Yasir Shah had taken three wickets by the time stumps were called but at 218/5 it appeared that Pakistan would end up with nothing more than a slender lead in the first innings. It was Mohammad Abbas, with the second new ball on Day 4 who produced a stellar display of bowling to end with the first fifer of his fledgling career. The manner of his bowling seems to indicate that many more such milestones are in store for the young pacer which bodes well for Pakistan. West Indies thus relinquished a good position to be bowled out for 247, thereby conceding a substantial 129 run lead to the visitors.
The plan from the Pakistan angle was to simply use the remaining part of the fourth day and set a robust target but this West Indies Test team was made of sterner stuff. A collapse of embarrassing proportions then seemed to have been set in motion as Pakistan lost seven wickets for just 90 runs.
However, a resilient partnership of 61 runs between Yasir and Mohammad Amir and another 23 runs between Yasir and Hasan Ali put rest to such fears. Pakistan declared their second innings on 174/8, setting a tough target of 304 runs for the home side and duly took the advantage with West Indies ending day four on 7/1.
With a pitch that was showing wear and tear and taking spin, the clear favourites were Pakistan, but the onus was squarely on the tourist's bowlers to ensure that the West Indies would be pressured enough to lose wickets. Yasir and Amir then went to work making breakthroughs but it was also a memorable day for Hasan, who made a crucial breakthrough to remove Holder who was involved in a 58-run partnership with Roston Chase which threatened to take the hosts to safety.
With Chase looking immovable and the tail-enders supporting him well it looked like the fairytale ending wasn't going to materialise for Misbah and Younis. Close calls, a wicket from a no-ball, umpiring reviews, the final session was a session not for the faint-hearted. And then as time ran out and with only one over left, Yasir finally got rid of Shannon Gabriel.
In the final analysis, it was a fantastic and emotional end to the careers of two of Pakistan’s most trusted and loyal servants. Their farewell match will also be remembered for their side’s historic series victory which had been some time coming. Despite the fact that the West Indies team of today are comparatively weak to the star-filled versions of yesteryear, for Pakistan a series victory after a drought will do wonders for their confidence as they progress towards a future without Misbah and Younis.
Saj Sadiq is a freelance writer and chief editor of Pakistan cricket website PakPassion. He tweets at @Saj_PakPassion.
Published Date: May 15, 2017 12:30 pm | Updated Date: May 15, 2017 12:49 pm