May 21, 2000

Pakistan in West Indies: Boys to men

It was the turn of three more young batsmen to enjoy the bounty provided by a placid, run-filled pitch on the third day of the second Test at Kensington Oval yesterday.

Yousuf Youhana, the 25-year-old right-hander, pulled Pakistan out of a hole with his 115 on the first day and Wavell Hinds, the 23-year-old Jamaican left-hander, responded with his stirring 165 on Friday.

They were joined yesterday by a couple of stylish, precocious teenagers, Ramnaresh Sarwan of the West Indies and Imran Nazir of Pakistan.

The 19-year-old Sarwan, polished and correct, was denied the rare chance of a hundred on debut when he ran out of partners to be left unbeaten 84, an innings begun on the previous afternoon that lasted five hours and 20 minutes all told.

Nazir, in his second Test, a year younger than Sarwan and also right-handed, small, boyish and uninhibited, treated the lifeless, one-dimensional West Indian bowling with the contempt it deserved.

In the two hours, 50 minutes Pakistan were left to bat once the West Indies innings ended just before tea at 398, he cracked 14 boundaries in 94, mostly with sweetly struck cuts of varying angles and handsome drives through the off-side.

He and the 22-year-old Mohammed Wasim, tall and upright, erased the deficit of 145 on their own just before the close when their untroubled partnership was worth 152. Wasim was 53.

In the 40 overs at their disposal, they exposed the ineffectiveness of the bowling that was matched by a shoddiness in the field that had seemed a thing of the past.

Nazir and Wasim have set the match back on an even keel with two days remaining. Pakistan are ahead by seven and every result is possible.

On a pitch that is still immaculate, the likeliest option is a draw ' but not by much.

The pair rattled up their runs so quickly that the West Indies take the field this morning with the worry of having to bat on the final day when, historically, the pitch tends to keep low.

Of the 90 overs sent down, 267 runs were scored including 30 fours and two sixes.

The young batsmen were not the only ones to enjoy the batting conditions.

Fast bowlers Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, the two oldest men in the match, the former with minimal credentials with the bat, the latter not only the wicket king of Test cricket but the duck king as well, indulged themselves in joyful hitting at the start and the end of the West Indies innings.

It was when they had to bowl that they found things less amusing.

For six hours on Friday, Hinds had given the West Indies the initiative. Yesterday, Sarwan affirmed that the general worry over the current state of West Indian batting was at least overstated.

Sarwan had long since won his fans in Barbados. He scored a hundred four

years ago against Pakistan in an Under-19 Test and has made runs attractively almost every time he has appeared at Kensington.

He shares the same lack of height as earlier ethnic Indians from Guyana ' Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Kallicharran and his current team-mate Shivnarine Chanderpaul ' and there were old-timers around the ground who saw technical similarities with Kanhai.

He resumed at 28 and batted through with little bother until the innings was all over an hour-and-ahalf after lunch.

The second new ball was into its fifth over and still hard and shiny when Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis resumed for Pakistan. But Sarwan and Ambrose treated them with disdain unbecoming of two fast bowlers with 677 Test wickets between them.

Ambrose, tall and left-handed, hoisted each over mid-on for fours and brought a jubilant Saturday crowd of 10 000 to its feet with a rasping cover-driven boundary.

The diminutive Sarwan countered with two boundaries of his own: a graceful cover-drive off Akram and a delicate glide off Waqar.

The first six overs yielded 33 and prompted Moin Khan to turn to Saqlain from the northern end and switch Akram to the south.

Batting immediately became a chore. Sarwan lost his momentum, if not his patience, as Akram induced late, reverse swing and Saqlain settled into a testing length and line.

Akram broke the stand with an overdue first wicket second ball after the first drinks break, Ambrose edging to second slip.

Saqlain soon bowled an uncomfortable Ridley Jacobs round his legs as he missed a sweep and, at the opposite end, Akram forced Nixon McLean to prod a bodyline delivery into the hands of forward short-leg.

The West Indies went to lunch 345 for eight and raised another invaluable 53 afterwards.

Reon King remained long enough to add 23 with Sarwan.

A catch to slip brought in Walsh and, not to be outdone by Ambrose, he exactly matched him with 22.

He launched his second ball from Saqlain into the Kensington Stand, sent Akram to the mid-off boundary with a thumping, authentic drive and hoisted a huge hit into the top tier of the Hall and Griffith Stand at long-on off Saqlain before he became one of off-spinner's five wickets.

It was a tough grind for the Pakistanis.

The West Indies would soon find it the same.