Pakistan’s template in the Emirates has been simple: they slow the game down, they force the opposition to play at their pace, and they take advantage of the impatience of modern cricketers. It’s not subtle, nor is it classically Pakistani but it has been extremely effective. No Test team has a longer unbeaten record at home than what Pakistan have right now. All this despite not having many of the advantages that home teams, particularly in Asia, tend to have. In fact, since they moved to the UAE only away teams in India have scored at a lower rate than the 2.93 runs per over that Pakistan have forced upon the touring teams.
Considering the record of the two teams leading up to this series Pakistan the recently deposed Test number 1, West Indies with all of one win in their last 17 Tests you would have thought that the template would prove too much for the West Indies. Eventually it did, with West Indies being bowled out for 357 par for the course in Dubai. But for the majority of day 3 that wasn’t the case. West Indies resisted Pakistan like few teams have done in recent Tests, and if they had had a better tail they could have posted only the third 400 score here in ten Tests against Pakistan. But for what they did, how much nearer they’ve brought the possibility of a draw, they have Darren Bravo to thank.
Much like with Azhar’s triple there are caveats that need to be pointed out, though. After two days of the pink ball passing most tests with flying colours, the third day turned out to be pretty bad for it and its manufacturers. The ball was replaced at the end of the 55th over of the West Indies innings, meaning that reverse swing was never an option for Pakistan. Wahab Riaz later admitted difficulty with bowling with that ball. Beyond the novelty, the balls loss of shape and ineffectiveness for spinners had a lot to do with the dew at the ground. Considering the issues Kookaburra’s white ball has had in ODI cricket with dew, you do wonder about its future in Asia where wet outfields are a common occurrence at night. As per Wahab, “it’s hard to bowl with the pink ball because of the dew.” Unlike the day-night Test at Adelaide this game is being played later in the day, with two of the three sessions each day coming under lights, which too could play a role here. “The first couple of sessions are fine, but in the third session every day there is a lot of dew and the ball gets wet. This causes the seam to get swollen and the ball to go out of shape, which helps neither the pacers nor the spinners.” Pakistan bowled 22 overs on the 2nd night, and that too reduced the effectiveness, as per Wahab. “When we bowled with the same ball on the next day it was very soft and wasn’t doing anything off the pitch.” Wahab even suggested that the change of ball actually helped them. “After 55 overs it lost its shape because it got wet and we got another ball to bowl with which was a bit harder and that was going through nicely.”
But by this stage Marlon Samuels and Bravo had batted together for 31 overs, and would continue to bat, even with the changed ball, for another twelve-and-a-bit overs. Eventually Samuels and then the middle order would struggle against the harder ball, particularly once Wahab had one of “those” spells as he bounced anything that moved, and some that didn’t. And yet Bravo held on. Later in the day, Samuels would say, with emphasis, that his team played “Test cricket today. We were patient. Put away the bad balls.” And that was something few visiting teams have been able to do, and perhaps no one has done it better than Bravo on day 3.
Darren Bravo has had an odd career. If you consider his reputation he’s another West Indian batsman who failed to reach his potential, the embodiment of the status of his team in the Test world today. And yet his numbers, particularly away from home, stand up to scrutiny. Among batsmen who’ve played at least ten innings outside of the Carribbean only one batsman (Seymour Nurse) in West Indies’ storied history has a better average. Of course the West Indies don’t get the tours nor the competition that they once did, but it’s not as if Bravo’s numbers are inflated by playing against inferior opposition. He already has at least one ton in each of Australia, New Zealand and India, and fell just 13 short of achieving the same against Pakistan in the Emirates.
Far more impressive than the runs he scored was the patience he showed. His innings, at 258 balls, was the 5th longest played by a touring batsman in Dubai and while the majority of each of the top four innings came on the first two days of a Test match Bravo’s innings came mostly on day 3, by which stage the Dubai surface invariably starts acting up. It was old school Test batting, and for nearly 400 minutes he beat Pakistan at their own game. Everything that was thrown at him, from the unerring accuracy of Yasir to the fire of Wahab, was blunted. He succeeded where far more celebrated players have failed. He played a scoring shot on just 26 of the 147 balls he played against Pakistani spinners, and rarely did he look troubled by them. But as was the case with the West Indies by the time they finished their batting on the afternoon of the 4th day, and as has been the case with their Test cricket in recent times, the fight, no matter how long, was followed by the collapse. The West Indies ended up losing their last seven wickets for under a hundred runs, and by the end of the first session on day 4 Pakistan find themselves in control once again.
Thus it’s likely that the West Indies will have to bat out the whole of day 5 to earn a draw here. But if ever they need a template on what to do, they will have the answer inside their dressing room.