Twenty years ago, a West Indies side, led by Brian Lara, set India 120 for victory at the Kensington Oval. They had never lost a Test in Bridgetown to a sub-continental side, but that record looked in serious threat against the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Mohammad Azharuddin, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. West Indies took just 35.5 overs to skittle the visitors out for 81 to extend a glorious run at their stronghold.
Fast forward to 2017 and a completely different West Indies side, both in personnel and prestige, took on another sub-continental powerhouse, Pakistan, at the same venue. West Indies were dominated for most parts of four days, but Shai Hope’s 90 that set a 188-run target helped script a remarkable turnaround.
On the final day, Shannon Gabriel took five wickets in a hostile spell as a Pakistan were skittled for that cursed score of 81. This Barbadian fortress might have creaked, but it certainly did not tumble as the hosts put in an inspired bowling performance to level the series.
Pakistan found their legs turning to jelly in a chase of 188 on a pitch that had shown signs of deterioration from very early in the Test. They played for the fear of demons on the pitch, and paid the price. Azhar Ali and Ahmed Shehzad’s conservative approach – they scored six in the first six overs of the chase – set the tone.
Azhar was the first to fall, attempting to pull a short delivery from Gabriel over midwicket, unwisely trusting the bounce. He mistimed the shot horribly, sending it straight down midwicket’s throat. Babar nicked down leg two deliveries later to record his first pair in Tests. That one of Pakistan’s brightest prospects was undone by an innocuous delivery could arguably be seen as the wicket that opened the floodgates.
More misery awaited Pakistan as Younis was consumed shortly after. Jason Holder banged one in slightly short of a good length, well outside off stump. As Younis shaped up, it darted back in,
kept low and made a beeline for his pads. The hapless Younis could only watch as it struck him dead in front of middle.
Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq both came and went within minutes of each other, their wickets brought about by Gabriel’s brilliance. Misbah got a thick inside edge that lobbed to gully, but West Indies may have not had the wicket if they had not reviewed, for the original appeal was for lbw. Two balls later, Asad Shafiq’s poke was taken on the third attempt by Kieran Powell, who earlier reprieved Ahmed Shehzad, at first slip.
The procession continued after lunch as Shehzad and debutant Shadab Khan fell within three overs of the resumption. Shehzad was unfortunate, falling to a delivery from Joseph that was almost a replica of the ball that accounted for Younis, but Shadab – whose introduction to Test cricket has been less spectacular than his limited overs debuts – was removed by a delivery that held its classical off stump line. Shadab could only nick to the wicketkeeper.
Sarfraz and Mohammad Amir then counter-attacked to take Pakistan past their lowest ever score of 49. But even an optimist couldn’t have been so blind to notice that the pair were riding their luck, and when
Amir sliced a drive into the hands of point, it was a wicket that had been coming all along.
There was still time for Shannon Gabriel to clinch a richly deserved five wicket haul with the perfect fast bowler’s delivery. It pitched on off stump and clipped the top of off, and batsmen better than Yasir Shah would have done well to keep that out. The knockout blow came next over as Sarfraz lofted the opposition skipper Holder to wide long-on, with Roston Chase stationed there for precisely that shot.
The man who had got West Indies’ fightback started with a first innings century made no mistake, but Pakistan, dazed and shell-shocked after a remarkable morning’s cricket from the hosts, had plenty of theirs to rue. (www.espncricinfo.com)