West Indies’ batting flops again as Pakistan level Test series

Pakistan 302 for 9 dec (Alam 124, Azam 75, Roach 3-68) and 176 for 6 dec (Butt 37, Azam 33) beat West Indies 150 (Bonner 37, Afridi 6-51) and 219 (Holder 47, Afridi 4-43, Nauman 3-52) by 109 runs

2005, 2011 and 2021. Three two-match series in a row, West Indies took the lead in a home series, only for Pakistan to drag them back to parity Rain, wet outfield, poor light all conspired to try and deny Babar Azam’s side triumph in this Test, but Pakistan’s positive approach and relentlessness in pursuit of a result rewarded with a hugely gratifying 109-run win.

Shaheen Afridi was the hero, finishing with a match haul of 10 wickets as the West Indies folded against a well-rounded attack. It meant they will have to wait a few more years to record a first Test series win over Pakistan since 2001.

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At the start of the day, Pakistan needed nine wickets, West Indies 280 runs. For a brief while on the fourth evening, Pakistan were slightly jitter in the face of West Indian resistance. It remained that way for a brief spell this morning, as Alzarri Joseph and Kraigg Brathwaite kept the bowlers at bay. Each struck a boundary to get the ball rolling, and with the ball losing its shine, West Indies appeared to be making progress.

But once Afridi bounced Joseph out, the innings changed colour. Hasan Ali hadn’t enjoyed a particularly memorable series until Tuesday, but it took just one ball to make an impact towards levelling the series. Nkrumah Bonner played down the wrong line and was struck dead in front; Hasan didn’t even bother to appeal as he set off to celebrate. The umpire made Pakistan review, but there was no redemption for Bonner.

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Faheem Ashraf at the other end should have seen off Brathwaite, but while one Pakistan opener simply cannot drop a catch in the slips, Brathwaite’s outside edge looped to the other one. Abid Ali put down a dolly, perhaps illustrating why Imran Butt had dived so spectacularly in front of him in the first Test. To rub the point home further, when Roston Chase offered up a chance the following over, Butt dived adroitly to his right as Pakistan had another wicket.

Blackwood and Brathwaite have been West Indies’ brightest batting sparks this tour, and for more than an hour, they kept Pakistan waiting for another breakthrough. It came from an unlikely source – their left-arm spinner Nauman Ali – who flighted the ball to draw the batter forward and induce an outside edge to the keeper.

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Brathwaite appeared to be the focal point of resistance when the middle session began but a rare loose shot a few overs in allowed Pakistan to chisel their way into the lower order. A loose, uppish slash to point found Fawad Alam, and Pakistan were sniffing at the prospect of finishing the game off before tea.

But Mayers, who was yet to score a run this series before, found a bit of rhythm, and alongside Jason Holder, began to hunker down. The runs came from time to time, but they weren’t a priority, and as Nauman’s effectiveness wavered while the quicks tired, West Indies were raising local hopes of taking the game deep and infusing concern amongst the fielding side. Abid Ali’s butterfingers didn’t help, the opener putting down his second catch of the day, this time a routine grab at short leg after an inside edge from Mayers.

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It was down to Shaheen Afridi – who else? – to give Pakistan a lift, coming with an exquisite off-stump delivery that shaped away from the left-handed Mayers. The batsman went for an expansive drive, only to see it take a feather off the outside edge, triggering relieved Pakistani celebrations.

You wouldn’t have blamed Pakistan for believing they were on the cusp of a series-levelling win, but the heavens chose that moment to open, and within moments, it had gone from bright sunshine to an absolute downpour. Holder jogged back off alongside the dismissed Mayers, while Babar Azam followed in his wake, remonstrating with the umpires; after the drama around the wet outfield, thoughts must invariably have turned to a victory snatched from under his side’s noses.

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But it was only a cloudburst, to Pakistan’s relief and an early tea later, back out they came. The darkening skies added a dramatic flair to the occasion, and for a while, Holder made hay while the sun didn’t shine. He targeted both quick and slow bowlers alike, and rode his luck on occasion, no more so than when fridi failed to gobble up a chance on the boundary.

Butt aside, Pakistan’s lackluster fielding was thematically consistent, and with no clear notion of when time might run out, there was always the danger it could cost them once more. But with Azam having turned to the spinners to rush through till the new ball became available, Holder’s extravagance got the better of him.

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He had pierced Nauman through the covers the previous delivery, but three runs shy of a half-century found Fawad at cover the next ball. From that point on, Afridi took over with the new ball, summarily removing Kemar Roach and Joshua da Silva to close the game.

Test cricket in these two nations might have been set back over the past few decades, but over yet another humdinger of a series, there was nothing to separate West Indies and Pakistan once more.

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