The first Test in Kingston ended in a fairly comfortable seven-wicket victory for Pakistan but what made it really memorable were a number of milestones, top of which was the one achieved by Younis Khan when he crossed the 10,000 Test runs-mark for Pakistan.
For others in the Pakistan team, such as Mohammad Amir and Yasir Shah, the first Test represented a possible turning point for their recent misfortunes in terms of a lack of wickets. It was hoped that the drought of wickets which had plagued both in the recent past was now behind them and a new page had been turned.
The much-maligned Pakistan batting seemed to have stuttered and picked itself up during the first Test. Apart from Misbah-ul-Haq’s determined innings of 99 not out, and some solid contributions from Babar Azam (72), Younis Khan (58) and Sarfraz Ahmed (54) in the first innings, the Pakistan batting had no major achievements to show for themselves for the rest of the game. Indeed, if the final analysis of the short run-chase by Pakistan on the fifth day was any indication, seriously troubled times lay ahead for a batting side known more for their frailties rather than any other redeeming qualities.
And so, a jubilant yet slightly bewildered Pakistan team walked into the second Test looking to win a Test series in the Caribbean for the first time. History beckoned with open arms if Pakistan were to take an unassailable 2-0 lead by winning in Barbados, and history of sorts was made on Day 1 as Pakistan leg-spinner Shadab Khan became the youngest Test debutant to play for Pakistan since Mohammad Amir in 2009. Fresh from his success in the limited-overs series, a lot was expected of Shadab but as the coming days were to show, success in the shorter form of cricket was not the ideal preparation nor a good indicator of future greatness in Test cricket.
The West Indies side, for their part, were looking to avenge the first Test defeat and in the process, reverse their recent fortunes against the former No 1 Test side. Jason Holder won the toss and decided to bat first. In the back of his mind, the idea was to expose a nervous Pakistan batting line-up in the fourth innings, which really was the best chance to upset the dire forecasts by pundits.
But to do that, West Indies needed a score which would put pressure on a vulnerable Pakistan batting contingent. Amir had other plans as he seemed to continue where he left off removing the opposition openers in a fine spell on the first day. Mohammad Abbas and Yasir joined in but then century maker Roston Chase combined with Kieran Powell and Holder in fourth and seventh wicket partnerships to get the West Indies to a respectable but slightly under-par 312 in the first innings.
The Pakistan batsmen then came out with what can only be described as a game plan to put innocent bystanders to sleep. Although the opening pair put on 155, the time consumed and the slow run-rate meant that the pressure on the rest of the line-up to accelerate was evident.
West Indies bowlers, to their credit, saw this as an opportunity to turn the game around and the Pakistan batting obliged with a meagre lead of 81 to show for their efforts. Azhar Ali managed to reach 105 whilst Misbah continued his own peculiar method of contributions with another 99 to his name. The visitors thus ending their first innings on 393 which in most cases would have been termed a safe total but if there was a team that could defy convention, Pakistan was it.
The West Indies were now faced with what many cruelly termed a battle for survival. Pakistan on the other hand had a nice cushion of an 81-run lead to play with and with an eager Yasir waiting to unleash his bowling on the West Indies, it would have appeared that the fate of the home side would be a foregone conclusion. But in the batting of Shai Hope, the West Indies found a player who not only defied the Pakistan bowling attack with 90 runs to his name but crucially helped his side to what proved to be a match winning lead of 187 runs.
The target of 188 appeared low but on a fifth day wearing pitch, it might have well been 450 runs in the way the Pakistan batsmen came under pressure. Curiously, it wasn’t a bowling attack consisting of Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, or Colin Croft that proved to be Pakistan’s undoing. Instead, it was to be the 29-year-old Shannon Gabriel with superb figures of 5/11 who helped dismantle the Pakistan batting in less than 35 overs.
The West Indies won the second Test by a comfortable margin of 106 runs and thus levelled the series 1-1, with one Test remaining. The Pakistan batsmen can look at their performance as below expectations, negative and lacking any urgency. The additional concern is that when Younis and Misbah fail, more often than not the Pakistan batting collapses.
So, from hopes of walking away with their names in the history books as the first Test side from Pakistan to have won a series in the West Indies, the visitors now face a daunting prospect of an embarrassing series loss in the final Test. Odds of such an event are highly improbable but then no one would have thought the side that was crowed No 1 in Tests in 2016 would now be sitting on an unenviable record of seven losses in the last eight Tests.
For Misbah, who is now in the midst of his final series for Pakistan, the next Test match in Dominica has an added edge to it. Should he win the Test, he can walk away with his name written in the history books but if his team are to continue in a downward spiral, his last Test for Pakistan could spoil an otherwise admirable legacy.
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