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May 29, 2000
Replenish the valiums, recheck the heart condition and, just in case, place the champagne on ice.
An enthralling Test match that has been on a knife's edge all the way through is set for an unbearably tense climax at the Antigua Recreation Ground this morning.
The equation is straightforward.
The West Indies require another 72 to win the match and the series and to place a fitting cap on a season in which they have regained faltering pride and respect. Pakistan need six wickets.
After shifting one way and then the next over the first three innings, the contest gradually tilted towards the West Indies yesterday afternoon before taking a wicked twist on what was the last ball of another prolonged day of unpredictable cricket.
Set a target of 216 after they completed Pakistan's second innings ten minutes after lunch for 219, the West Indies were strongly placed at 144 for three with rain visibly approaching when Wavell Hinds went.
Obviously unsettled by the heightening tension after three-and-a-half hours of batting excellence, he dragged a short ball from Wasim Akram back into his stumps from a woeful pull shot.
All calm assurance until then, the tall 23-year-old left-hander, in his fifth Test, enhanced the reputation he has made for himself in the past ten days by leading his team's charge with positive strokeplay.
Suddenly and out of character, he was so overcome by the pressure that he needlessly barged into bowler Saqlain Mushtaq, with whom he had had an earlier physical clash, as he trotted down the pitch for a single.
It led to an exchange of words with Pakistani captain Moin Khan before Jimmy Adams, his captain and partner, ushered him away from the confrontation and clearly tried to refocus his young team-mate on the job at hand.
It had no effect. Hinds had been terminally distracted. He soon edged the first ball of a new spell from Wasim Akram wide of second slip where Mohammed Wasim just failed to grasp a fingertip catch in his left hand.
His dismissal in the next over was as predictable as it was untimely. As he trudged disconsolately towards the pavilion, 63 to his name with two sweetly struck leg-side sixes off leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed, and seven, mainly off-side fours, the ground staff was dragging the covers onto the pitch from another direction. Not another ball was bowled, leaving both teams starting this morning with the enticing prospect of victory in their sights. The one that holds its nerve, and its composure, best will triumph.
At no stage has either claimed a definite advantage, and neither does now in a fiercely contested match that has, even if temporarily, superseded the nauseating match-fixing controversy that has engulfed the game and more especially the four Pakistanis implicated in Judge Malik Qayyum's report on the eve of the match.
Akram, the former captain, has been to the fore of Pakistan's effort. He followed his six decisive first innings wickets with 24 valuable runs in the morning before he was last out to the second of two breathtaking catches by Adams as Pakistan struggled to raise their lead to the level of 220 that Akram himself rated overnight as satisfactory.
He then followed with the wickets of both West Indian openers and, finally, Hinds.
He arrived 40 minutes into play after Reon King's inswinger disposed of the dangerous Yousuf Youhana, lbw after adding a single to his overnight 41, and Hinds' swift pick-up and throw from point and wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs' quick relay to Franklyn Rose at the bowler's end easily completed the run-out of the scrambling Abdur Razzaq.
At 163 for seven, Pakistan's advantage was only 159, with only nightwatchman Saqlain, Akram, Waqar Younis and Mushtaq Ahmed remaining.
Sharing stands of 23 with Saqlain and 27 with Waqar, Akram kept the West Indies waiting.
Curtly Ambrose removed Saqlain with the last ball of his first over with the new ball to a slip catch and Adams' two sensational catches rounded things off.
Establishing himself not only as an inspirational captain but one of the best all-round fielders in the game, Adams threw himself low to his left at second slip to grasp Waqar's edge off Ambrose. He dived even lower to his right at midwicket to hold Akram's meaty pull off Reon King, who finished with four for 48.
Next time the West Indies appear on the ground, he and others are likely to have to do it on their own.
As Ambrose and Walsh headed off they made a point to wave their goodbyes to the cheering crowd. But we've seen that gesture before enough to know it might be misleading.
Akram was immediately back in business when the West Indies set out after their target with obvious positive intent.
He set up Sherwin Campbell and Adrian Griffith with bouncers and both fell for the trap, hook, line and sinker, hoisting catches to deep square-leg and long-leg off miscued hooks.
Hinds then swung the match towards the home team in successive lefthanded partnerships of 53 with Shivnarine Chanderpaul and 60 with the careful Adams.
Chanderpaul was in reassuring touch when Razzaq, replacing Waqar from the southern end, discovered reverse swing and pinned him on the backfoot for an lbw decision after an hour's batting.
Adams joined Hinds to bat in his own, cautious, unconcerned way while Hinds gathered most of the runs in their partnership.
Both took painful blows on the body that needed lengthy on-field attention.
Hinds collapsed in a heap when struck by Akram's vicious lifter on the box; Adams was hit on the chin on the rebound as he padded away the less aggressive Saqlain.
The ball opened up a cut and, for quarter-hour that included the drinks break, the Pakistan doctor, Pakistan physio Dan Keisel and the West Indies physio Ronald Rogers combined to shave Adams' beard before inserting three stitches in the wound.
It was the first known medical operation performed in the middle of a Test match ground. Apendectomies might be next.
But the most telling blow was Hinds' dismissal.
It has left West Indies' hopes resting heavily with their determined captain and the teenaged Ramnaresh Sarwan today.
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The new stand-in captain has the makings of a long-term leader, given his ability to stay ahead of the game
Both batsmen seemingly have buckets of talent at their disposal and the backing of their captains, but soft dismissals relentlessly follow both around the Test arena
The failed gamble of handing Karn Sharma a Test debut despite him having a moderate first-class record means India have to rethink who their spinner will be
Turning your back on a system that the whole cricketing world wants a discussion on, refusing to discuss it because it is not 100%, is not good enough
After a long time we have seen an Indian team and captain enjoy the challenge of trying to overcome stronger opposition in an overseas Test