By Tony Becca
The first Test match against Pakistan ended in Dubai last Monday in a thrilling, exciting, and almost dramatic fashion.
It ended, surprisingly, in almost victory for the West Indies.
Going into the match short on confidence after being the beating stick of almost of every jack man in cricket, and after losing the T20 and the ODI assignments 6-0, and easily at that, the expectation going into the Test match was for nothing less than a 3-0 thumping.
And against Pakistan, who, despite their previous showing against England in England, are known as cricket’s most inconsistent performers, good today and unrecognisably bad tomorrow.
And after getting away to an astonishing start at 215 before the first wicket fell, to 352 before the second wicket, to 517 before the third wicket fell, and to reach 579 for three declared, with Azhar Ali posting 302 not out, the feeling was “here we go again” with a sound thrashing in sight.
It was even worse when, under different circumstances, the West Indies’ best bowler, Devendra Bishoo, finished with two wickets for 125 runs off 35 miserable overs.
The end, however, was not as many expected it be.
The West Indies, instead of crumbling on what the West Indians described as a slow, unkind pitch, surprisingly put up a fairly good show, with top batsmen Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels contributing nicely to a first innings of 357 runs.
Not surprisingly, Pakistan did not enforce the follow-on, preferring, as most captains do these days, to bat the opposition out of the Test match.
The plan, no doubt, was to get around 180, or so, for the loss of a few wickets, add that to their lead of 222, and to leave themselves with enough time to bowl out the West Indies a second time.
You can bet your bottom dollar that after scoring such a massive first-innings score, and that having things easy, Pakistan never even figured, at that time, that they could lose the match.
They would just go, rattle up a few runs, and let loose leg-spinner Yashir Shaw on the fifth-day pitch.
Bishoo, the right-arm leg-spinner, who, a few years ago, was named the best young cricketer of the year, but who never lived up to his potential, had other ideas, however, and in a short while, in 31.5 overs, Pakistan were in and out, rolled over for 123.
Bishoo, “bowling straighter and at the stumps” than in the first innings when he “bowled short and at a fourth or fifth stump outside the off-stump”, ripped through Pakistan’s batting, claiming eight wickets for 49 runs off 13.5 overs.
The end really came quickly, and Pakistan really realised that they were in danger, not when they were 112 for 4, but when their last six wickets crashed for 11 runs.
“I pitched the ball up, I pitched it on the wicket and in the rough, and that was that. We had a chance of winning the Test match,” Bishoo said.
Some time around 10:30 on Sunday morning, Reds Perreira telephoned me from St Lucia. He asked me if I had heard the score, and he told me Pakistan were 121 for eight and that Bishoo had picked up six wickets.
Fifteen minutes or so later, Easton McMorris, as he usually does, telephoned me and asked me if I thought that we could win.
“Win what?” I asked him.
“The Test match”, McMorris said. “You don’t hear the score? We bowled them out for 123 … Bishoo run through them.”
It was then that I sat up straight. “Maybe. Three hundred and forty-odd is a lot to get, especially on a turner. Bravo and Samuels will have to bat out of their skin for us to win.”
After that, my telephone kept ringing all day. People kept calling and asking, as if I had a crystal ball in my hand, if the West Indies would win, or if they could win.
If Bravo and Samuels both bat well, maybe they could.
BRAVO BAT WELL
Bravo did bat well, unbelievably well on a fifth-day pitch, probably the best by a West Indian on a fifth-day pitch.
At close on Sunday, the West Indies were 95 for two, Bravo and Samuels were not out, and the hope of a stunning and surprising win was still alive.
As fate would have it, Samuels was out to the first ball of the day, and although Bravo batted on to score 116 runs off 249 deliveries, the 251 runs that were then needed, the target of 346 runs was always a little too far. It was always a distant dream.
When all was said and done, it would have been the seventh-highest total to win a Test match. And it might have been, but for some cricket earlier on, but for Bravo’s late dismissal, and but for some careless running between the wickets at the end.
It was just six runs less than Sri Lanka made against South Africa in 2006 to win a match.
It was always a challenge, a stiff one at that, and against one like Yashir Shaw on a turning pitch, it was almost improbable, if not impossible, for a team like the West Indies team at the moment.
Pakistan’s batsman played terribly in that second innings, and maybe it was because of their impressive first-innings performance.
It was, however, some good bowling by Bishoo, some good batting by Bravo, and the hope is that they will continue to perform in such manner, not in taking eight wickets all the time, not in scoring a century every time, but in bowling well and in batting well most of the time.
This West Indies team is not the best in the world, but it is also not so bad that a little pride, a little fight, a little discipline in their play, and a little improvement in the thought process cannot change.
What happened in Dubai last Sunday should help to convince the fans that all is not lost in West Indies cricket, that the performance of the team does not necessarily depend on the performance of the board, and that what happens on the field depends almost entirely on the players.
The players are the ones who play the game.
After facing a massive 579 for three declared and the dreaded follow-on, the West Indies routed Pakistan, the number-two ranked team in the world, for next to nothing and battled into the last hour of the Test match to lose by 56 runs and 12 overs, and that, after batting once for 123.5 overs and again for 109 overs.
It was the second-highest number of overs the West Indies had ever batted in the second innings of a Test match.