PAK vs WI: A Test of the Terrible and a Phoenix Amongst the Ashes

Let’s start with a quick riddle. What do all these things have in common? – The gestation period of a sperm whale, winning the Ashes comfortably before losing them spectacularly, and a baby learning to walk. Give up?

They all take less time than the West Indies did to win a Test match – 18 months is a painstaking wait; luckily it is finally over.

The West Indies have finally won a Test and this almost had a Bangladesh 2.0 feel to it. However, instead of the elation and scenes of pure joy that enveloped Dhaka last week, it was more like intense relief in Sharjah as Kraigg Brathwaite and Shane Dowrich were politely applauded pavilion-ward by their side, following their 87-run partnership, which rode them to a five-wicket victory. The Caribbean boys could finally relish a performance that went the distance but that being said, they really were dragged across the line kicking and screaming.

November 3rd 2016 – the first time that the West Indies have beaten a higher ranked side away since December 2007 (vs South Africa at Port Elizabeth)

It was a game that neither side wanted to win at times, a game that both were keen on theatrically throwing away. Going into the second set of innings, the West Indies had their noses in front thanks to heroics from Kraigg Brathwaite with an inspiring, bat-carrying knock of 142*, while the rest of the top order collapsed around him (WI were at one point 151-5 still 129 runs behind), threatening to throw away the wonderful platform Pakistan had offered with their first innings of poorly judged reverse sweeps and soft dismissals.

Who wanted to lose more? 

Pakistan came out to bat for a second time facing a deficit of 56. But having proved in previous games (vs Eng at Sharjah 2015) that they have the brute stubbornness to grind down bowling attacks and make fun of any slight advantage their opponents once seemed to laud, the West Indies were to have their wits about them.

Sure enough, an inspired spell from Jason Holder of well directed short bowling had Aslam swatting and Shafiq fending to grateful catchers, triggering a spectacular implosion. The talismen arrived and departed in a flash – the skipper Misbah managing to haul a long-hop out to fine leg to his utter disbelief and Younis jonesing for a flick off the legs got a feather edge behind. Pakistan at day three’s close were 87-4 (effectively 21-4.)

“Panic stations everyone! We are on the verge of something good!!” screamed the internal mind men, manning the controls, as the West Indian bowlers began the next morning with a horrid barrage of perpetual dross; spraying the ball as far out of reach as could be mustered; one of Gabriel’s deliveries even missed the strip. Runs were flowing and the fifth-wicket partnership had almost hit the century landmark when Pakistan reclaimed the baton of self-destruction.

Sarfraz poked a fairly benign ball on fifth stump from Bishoo, which was soon after replicated by Azhar Ali in the nervous nineties, providing catching practice at first slip. Amir then went one better as he was run out in ludicrously spectacular fashion to have Pakistan limp to 208 all out. Their under par score meant that the Windies required just 153 runs for victory.

Blooper reel

Amir’s wicket takes the Test’s bizarre biscuit. Having a heave in search of a maximum over the long on boundary, Chase leapt for an over-the-shoulder take, and while plummeting perilously towards the ropes, he had the presence of mind to parry athletically as he collided with the turf. Collecting the ball from his heap, he soon spotted that Amir hadn’t realised that he’d been denied the boundary and rapidly returned the ball to the non-strikers end. Amir in despair could only fling his bat towards home base as he was comfortably removed while in no-man’s land.

Finally over the line

Pakistan rock the old school with much of their approach to Test cricket and indeed their unusually long tail is a classic example of their vive le vintage style. From 175-6 to 208 all out – their bowlers couldn’t undo the rare mess that their top six had left them in.

43.5 overs later and the West Indies nightmarish tour of the UAE, which had seen defeats in all formats and all matches (until now) could be somewhat forgotten as they finally had something to celebrate. The three headless run outs, two in hot pursuit of a win in the first Test, and the other being Bishoo’s refusal to surrender his wicket for Brathwaite in a dire situation in the 2nd Test were now water under the bridge.

However they didn’t make it easy. Oh boy! They offered two chances early to the slip cordon that were grassed and later fell foul of Yasir, who set the cat amongst the pigeons. Leon Johnson swivelled for an ugly pull and was trapped dead in front and Samuels, the team’s most senior head, a man who has played 71 tests and scored nearly 4000 runs then decided to take him on down the track and subsequently miscued a hoick to leave 23-year-old Brathwaite to deliver the Windies from the ashes once again.

Brathwaite has been the bedrock; the resistance to the cluster of seismic ruptures that occur within this brittle batting line-up. His composure and sumptuous stroke play has seen him carry not only his bat, but his side to a rare Test victory. He is the vital piece in the West Indian’s Test puzzle.

Facts in context for the West Indies

Scraps of pride have been salvaged as the West Indies have managed to claw a Test back against Pakistan, concluding their tour of the sub-continent with a 2-1 series defeat. Kraigg Brathwaite became just the 51st cricketer in Test history to carry his bat through a Test innings and the first opener to remain not out in both innings of a Test for a match winning harvest of 202 runs.

They however are spared complete humiliation, avoiding a clean sweep of white washes across the three formats in the UAE. 0-2, 0-3 and 1-2 – the solitary snake eye is better than no die at all.

Their win in the third Test at Sharjah marks just the fourth time that Pakistan have been beaten in the UAE in 24 Test matches – needless to say, one of the stingiest home records of any Test nation, second only to India since 2010/11.

Now these scraps are indeed the leftovers of leftovers; a half eaten boxing day turkey sandwich or a pastry that has been left out for a few days, but a Test win is something to herald and they truly deserved it. Although while there were certainly outstanding performances; skipper Jason Holder recording his first five-wicket haul, Bishoo being his usual wiley self and Brathwaite with two knocks that couldn’t be rivalled throughout the entirety of the contest, there are plenty of issues for the Caribbean outfit to work on.

The top order looks as reliable as the current value of the pound, the fast bowlers are too easily thrown off their rhythm and they still don’t truly know how to win – Pakistan handed them several Mulligans along the way and so the question becomes: Does this match provide them with enough confidence to kick on?

It’s true what they say in that you have to learn how to crawl before you can walk. Today the West Indies can say they are on their feet but they are yet to take a convincing step.