West Indies and Pakistan’s last Test match four years ago was a classic, and if the events of the second day at Sabina Park are anything to go by, we may be in for another one over the coming days.
On an attritional day of Test cricket that didn’t swing as much as it swayed in either direction, the teams go in at stumps in a Test that refuses to decisively tip one way or another just yet. Simple math would dictate the hosts have the edge, leading as they do by 34 runs with two wickets still to spare, but with Yasir Shah in the fourth innings a historically significant factor, all bets will be off.
Kraigg Brathwaite (97) dominated the day, surviving almost through to the end after having to settle nerves after the frenetic finish of last night. He saw off each of Pakistan’s pace bowlers, the first new ball, a dangerous middle order collapse, the introduction of Yasir and two full sessions. But soon after the most threatening partnership for West Indies, between the captain and Jason Holder (58), had been broken having added 95 runs, Brathwaite was eyeing up a personal three-figure score, too – ideally before the new ball in darkening conditions, with Mohammad Abbas warming up.
It is hard to say if that played a role in his decision to hare back for a couple down to fine leg, taking on Hasan Ali, whose direct hit caught the opener well short of his ground. He had departed three runs shy of what would have been a splendid hundred, with the wicket coming at a time when West Indies had firm control over the Test. Holder carried on after tea, playing with delightful fluidity as his side pushed past 150 and bore down on Pakistan’s first innings score ominously. Yasir, not nearly at his best, was dispatched to the boundary repeatedly, and soon enough, a backfoot punch off Hasan got Holder to his 11th half century.
Faheem Ashraf provided the all-important breakthrough, subtle seam movement drawing Holder into a push that resulted in a feather through to Mohammad Rizwan. Once Brathwaite fell, the visitors had a real opening, but wayward lines with the new ball, particularly from Shaheen Afridi, saw the lower order continue to eke out runs as Joshua Da Silva manipulated the strike intelligently. By the time the umpires began worrying about the light, West Indies already had a sizeable lead they will be keen to build on tomorrow.
In overcast conditions in the morning, Abbas had picked up exactly where he left off the previous day and was the pick of the bowlers, peppering the corridor of uncertainty between a good and full length. Roston Chase and Brathwaite had to be especially sure of their footwork, with the seam movement Abbas was generating an additional challenge.
Afridi let his high standards dip somewhat, beginning with two leg-side deliveries that trickled away for four leg-byes each. It settled West Indies’ nerves, and once Chase drove Abbas straight down the ground, the runs off the bat became more frequent. Before long, they had brought up a half-century stand.
But just as West Indies looked poised to take control, Pakistan struck. Hasan, who had been testing the pair in his first three overs, especially when they got on the front foot, coaxed an expansive front-foot drive from Chase that wasn’t really on. It produced a tickle through to Rizwan, with an anguished look from the batter revealing quite how ordinary the shot was.
The second session was a dogged, scrappy affair that – one sensational over from Afridi aside – West Indies negotiated with relative conviction. The problem for them, though, was that the session would be defined by four balls from Afridi more than anything any batter could manage.
Just after West Indies brought up the 100, Pakistan broke through with the wicket they had threatened before lunch. Jermaine Blackwood’s punchy counter-attacking knock might have been evocative of Rizwan’s cameo on the first day but it wasn’t nearly as assured, with all four of his boundaries coming off shots he wasn’t in control of. Afridi landed one in the slot for him to go after, but with the ball wobbling in the air, Blackwood only managed to toe-end it to Abbas at long-on. The very next ball, Kyle Mayers was struck full on the pad, and found himself departing for a golden duck.
It might have gotten worse for West Indies. Two balls later, the irrepressible Afridi had Holder trapped in front, with the umpire raising the finger. The allrounder would survive by the barest of margins, with the review showing the ball pitching just outside leg stump.
Holder understood the magnitude of the moment, and dug in. He did not score until a straight drive off his 12th delivery, and didn’t score again for 22 more balls. He knew the chance would eventually come, and a wayward Yasir over towards the back-end of the session allowed him to take three boundaries off it. Brathwaite, meanwhile, might as well be batting on a different surface.
His patience was exemplary, his shot selection immaculate. When Pakistan appeared to be having one of their purple patches, he had the awareness to retreat completely into his shell and place an even greater value on his wicket, and with Holder keeping the scoring ticking over at the other end, West Indies began to take control.
The quick departure of both let Pakistan back in, though, and it feels increasingly as if it might all come down to fine margins again. Just as it did in 2017.
Stumps West Indies 251 for 8 (Brathwaite 97, Holder 58, Abbas 3-42) lead Pakistan 217 by 34 runs
(Story from ESPNcricinfo by Danyal Rasool)