Adams at his best
St. John's - It was as close, tense and topsy-turvy as they come and it took a captain's innings of nerveless, single-minded determination, combined with a helping of necessary luck, to resolve it. Jimmy Adams, in his fifth Test at the helm of a team his leadership has revitalised, kept his head and his wicket through three-and-a-quarter hours of unrelenting pressure yesterday to guide the West Indies to victory over Pakistan by one wicket in the third and final Test.
Last man Courtney Walsh, unabashed holder of the record number of ducks in Test cricket but an old hand in such situations, stayed with Adams for an hour-and-a-quarter, surviving 24 balls to the delight of the cheering, flag-waving stands as the final 19 runs were eeked out in a match that remained in the balance throughout.
When they scampered the decisive run on Adams' bat-pad push into the covers off Wasim Akram half-an-hour after lunch, the captain raised his hands to the heavens, broke into a smile for the first time in the five-and-a-half hours he had been in the middle and, physically and emotionally drained by the effort, lay flat out on the grass.
Almost immediately he was smothered under a heap of his jubilant players, celebrating a triumph that clinched the threematch series 1-0 and kept intact the record of never losing a series in the Caribbean to Pakistan.
It was a replay of the scenes that followed a similarly pulsating, one-wicket triumph over Australia at Kensington Oval just over a year ago, also engineered by a left-handed captain who also had Walsh as his partner at the finish.
Brian Lara's breathtaking strokeplay then may have been utterly different in execution to Adams', but both innings accurately typified the two players.
The Pakistanis trudged from the ground in the deep disappointment felt by all sportsmen in such circumstances. They had muffed two glaring run-out chances and justifiably believed they would have won but for an umpiring error.
Their frustration would have been even even more crushing.
They had entered the match with the shadow of Judge Malik Qayyumís match-fixing report hanging over their four more senior players, Wasim Akram, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed and Waqar Younis.
Something to prove
It was obvious they had something to prove, none more so than Akram, the 33-year-old veteran of 95 Tests, whose 11 wickets for 110 from 56.2 tireless overs were gained by high quality left-arm swing bowling.
His duel with Adams was a fascinating battle within a battle, Test cricket at its best within one of the finest of Tests.
Adams, 15 at the start with the West Indies 72 away from their goal at 144 for four, kept going through 35.3 overs yesterday, 62.5 all told for 48. Such was his defiant defence that he didn't hit one boundary off the 212 balls he received.
The loss of Ramnaresh Sarwan in the day's sixth over, lbw to Akram's dangerous inswing as he was in the first innings, meant the responsibility rested wholly and almost solely on Adams.
Not trusting his remaining partners to cope, he shielded them by taking as much of the strike as he could from Akram, who bowled 17.3 tireless overs, in three spells from either end, to add to his 12.3 of the previous day.
Sticking unwaveringly to his calculated plan, Adams consistently refused blatant singles to deep-set fields to ensure Akram wouldn't get at the shaky tail.
While he faced 141 balls on the day, the others only had to deal with 78, mostly from spinners Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq who sent down 13 overs between them. Strangely, Moin didn't call at all on Waqar, a bowler with close to 300 Test wickets. Adams' strategy indirectly led to Ridley Jacobs' narrow run-out by Yousaf Youhana's quick throw to Moin on Adams' sweep to short fine-leg. Nor could it protect Franklyn Rose, Ambrose and King forever. But it was vindicated by the result.
Rose, whose one and only ball from Akram brought a huge lbw appeal, pulled Mushtaq for four, but his attempted six hit an over later was against the breeze to the longest part of the boundary and carried only as far as Akram at long-on.
Ambrose's blow over midwicket off Mushtaq found its target, Independence Avenue outside the ground, but when he was lbw to Saqlain the last ball before lunch and Akram collected his 11th wicket of the match by hitting King's unprotected off-stump, the balance of a constantly fluctuating match had swung in Pakistan's favour.
There was another final twist to come but it would not have reached that stage but for Pakistani slackness in the field and by an umpiring decision that the ubiqitous television cameras showed to be a mistake.
Both reflected the general stress that seemed to affect everyone except Adams and Walsh. With 16 still needed, Walsh lunged forward to his second ball from off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq, bat locked close to pad.
Imran Nazir at forward short-leg caught the rebound and he, wicketkeeper and captain Moin Khan and the close fielders bellowed an appeal that could have been heard in Montserrat.
Even after umpire Doug Cowie, a New Zealander and the ICC appointee standing for the first time in the Caribbean, ruled not out, the Pakistanis were demanding the decision. The television replays showed they had a point for the bat's inside edge, as well as the pad, were involved.
Earlier, with 20 required, the Pakistanis were also certain Adams had snicked Akram to Moin but umpire Billy Doctrove, in his debut Test, disagreed. The replays, this time, were not as conclusive as they later were.
Twice, almost identical, straightforward run-out chances were squandered. The first made little difference, the second would have given Pakistan victory by 13.
Ambrose, in his last Test on his home ground, had just sent Mushtaq's leg-break out of the ground when he and Adams found themselves together at the wicket-keeper's end and the ball in Imran Nazir's grasp at short fine-leg.
The return came to Moin who relayed it back to the bowler's end only for Saqlain Mushtaq to fumble and lose the ball with Ambrose well short of his ground.
Ambrose was out two runs later, lbw to the last ball before lunch from Saqlain, with the West Indies still 22 short of victory and only Reon King and Walsh to come. The lapse seemed immaterial.
Pakistan's next opportunity was decisive.
This time, Adams and Walsh were in the same crease after a disagreement over a deflection from Walsh's pad to short fine-leg. Adams ran, Walsh only did so with Younis Khan's throw on its way, yet again, to the unfortunate Saqlain. Again he missed it. It was the match.
The setbacks seemed to rattle the Pakistanis whose effort gradually faded. In the end, even Walsh was batting with the panache that he never doubted victory.