Unbeaten fifty for Babar as Pakistan lead by 124 runs

SUMMARY: Pakistan 217 all out (Fawad Alam 56, Faheem Ashraf 44, Babar Azam 30, Jason Holder 3-26, Jayden Seales 3-70, Kemar Roach 2-47) and 160-5 (Babar Azam 54*, Abid Ali 34, Mohammad Rizwan 30, Kemar Roach 2-15, Jayden Seales 2-50) vs West Indies 253 all out (Kraigg Brathwaite 97, Jason Holder 58, Shaheen Shah Afridi 4-59, Mohammad Abbas 3-43)

The weather was as variable as the momentum swings, and as the last few chapters of this Test unfold, you sense there are still a few plot twists in it as a seesawing encounter approaches its climax.

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Pakistan still have half their side left, including – crucially – captain Babar Azam on 54 as they try and stretch out a relatively vulnerable 124-run lead beyond the capacity of the hosts in what should be an engrossing fourth innings chase.

On either side of a two-and-a-half-hour rain delay, West Indies bowlers’ were characteristically patient and as consistent as they’ve been all Test, but will need one final effort to ensure their batters have a target within their reach.

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The day began in bright, cheery sunshine, and Shaheen Afridi certainly made hay. He allowed just two more runs to the West Indies batters before cleaning up the final two wickets, the lead a slender 36. The prodigious inswing he found was much better directed than anything he had managed the previous day.

Jomel Warrican had his stumps knocked back first, before – on just the 16th ball of the day – Joshua Da Silva was trapped dead in front. Thus, part one of Pakistan’s plan had been executed to perfection.

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West Indies then struck early themselves after the changeover, getting rid of the struggling Imran Butt for nought as he pushed his pad out at one that was crashing into middle stump. Thereafter, though, Abid Ali and Azhar Ali settled down, seeing off the pace bowlers without much trouble.

Abid looked to take the attack to Warrican early on, too, dancing down the pitch to deposit his fourth ball for the first six of the match; it was the shot that erased Pakistan’s deficit.

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Unbeaten fifty for Babar as Pakistan lead by 124 runs
Jayden Seales (C) of West Indies celebrates the dismissal of Fawad Alam (L) of Pakistan during day 3 of the 1st Test between West Indies and Pakistan at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, on August 14, 2021. 

Azhar was more circumspect – and less convincing – through the early part of his innings. He found the fifth-stump line targeted as the pacers tested his footwork and his judgment, with the outside edge beaten on a number of occasions.

When Kemar Roach finally induced the edge, Jason Holder put him down at second slip. Azhar followed it up with two aggressive boundaries either side of the wicket off Warrican as the shackles began to come off.

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Roach, however, had the last laugh in the last over before lunch, bringing one back in sharply to breach Azhar’s defence and crash into his leg stump. It heralded Kraigg Bathwaite’s side’s best passage of the day, with Jayden Seales welcoming in the post-lunch session with a sumptuous double-strike.

Abid, who was set up by slightly short deliveries in the first innings, was presented another short one with the first ball of Seales’ spell. The extra bounce which the teenager’s pace extracted from the surface saw the opener slash straight to second slip, and Holder, who had put down Azhar earlier, made no mistake this time.

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Three balls later, Fawad Alam fell to an outside edge after lacklustre footwork, and West Indies threatened to blow the Test wide open. Pakistan were now in the perilous position of having lost four wickets with the lead at just 29, and it was left to Mohammad Rizwan and Azam, arguably Pakistan’s two best performers over the past year, to take the sting out of the hosts’ momentum.

Over the next hour or so, they did just that under blackening skies, the runs trickling along gradually. With an increasing amount of sideways movement for the pacers, it was anything but easy, and the 56 runs they managed before the heavens opened may yet be the difference between success and failure.

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Two-and-a-half-hours later under clear blue skies, though, West Indies struck almost immediately upon the resumption. Holder drew Rizwan into a forward defensive push with seam movement producing the edge; West Indies once more appeared to be sniffing at the lower order.

Faheem Ashraf, though has shown he isn’t a pushover with the bat, and while he possesses the flair he showcased on the first day, the steel was on full display this evening. Scoring just 12 runs in 79 deliveries, he happily played second fiddle to Azam, who brought up a high-quality half-century before the day was done.

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West Indies may yet rue a dropped slip catch early into Ashraf’s innings – Jermaine Blackwood was the culprit – but Pakistan will be reassured by the relative solidity of the pair at the crease. As the light deteriorated and the umpires brought out the light metre after every over, the duo shut up shop completely, and did not look especially susceptible doing so.

West Indies took the last five Pakistan wickets for 31 runs on day one. The home side will need a similarly explosive performance tomorrow morning to give themselves the best chance of a manageable chase. The weather would be relatively clear, but the outcome of this tantalising Test remains anything but that.

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