Pakistan hold nerve in low-scoring brawl
Pakistan tripped and stumbled and chased with the assurance of sleepwalkers, but ultimately a superior fast-bowling attack and depth in batting sealed them a low-scoring showdown. A fine bowling performance where wickets were shared all around ensured a woefully inexperienced West Indies were bowled out for an unthreatening 133 after they opted to bat. Pakistan's batting has floundered repeatedly this year and today they nearly lost it, bewildered by Gavin Tonge's four-wicket haul, before Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi added 58 to finish the deal.
This match as a contest ended well before Pakistan could come out to bat. Floyd Reifer had spoken of the importance of this tournament for fans in the Caribbean, and vowed at the toss that his team would play "the best cricket possible". What followed was anything but, as a combination of accurate fast bowling and not-so-clever batting decided the direction of this match.
Afridi, captaining Pakistan for the first time in ODIs, had said after losing the toss that he would have fielded first on a surface he reckoned had a bit in it for his bowlers. He was spot on, and Pakistan's trio of fast bowlers exploited whatever juice there was. There were no magic deliveries or exaggerated reverse swing, just good old line and length but that proved sufficient for an inept line-up. The professionals stuck to the basics: Mohammad Aamer found a bit of seam movement, Naved-ul-Hasan swung it gently and varied his pace, and Umar Gul hit the deck hard to apply the chokehold.
At one point it looked as though the game would be finished before the lights came on. West Indies' woes started in the first over, when Dale Richards spooned a return catch to Aamer. Andre Fletcher found it wasn't easy slogging Naved and when he got one that wasn't full enough to stab at, he scooped to backward point. Aamer got Travis Dowlin for 0, trying to cut one that was too full.
With the batsmen uneasy defending and playing off the back foot, Aamer settled for back of a length and beat the bat numerous times. Naved found movement when he pitched it up and the slips were kept interested. He hit a tidy line with the new ball and cleverly changed his pace, conceding just 12 off his first five overs.
Gul took a few deliveries to find his length, and when he changed his angle to around the stumps he immediately had Devon Smith - the most experienced batsman - lobbing a sharp, rising delivery to second slip. West Indies went from deep trouble to catastrophe in a matter of minutes when Aamer changed ends after a break and ripped one through David Bernard, and Gul nipped out Reifer and Chadwick Walton off successive deliveries. Gul was the pick of the lot, finding a superb line and getting the ball to sit up sharply.
Had it not been for some enthusiastic hitting from Nikita Miller, West Indies may have folded for their second lowest score ever. Miller, beginning shakily but gaining in confidence with three boundaries off Saeed Ajmal's second over, showed a technique and temperament that his batting team-mates so desperately lacked. He was last out for 51 off 57 balls as West Indies collapsed in 34.3 overs.
A target of 134 was easily going to be in Pakistan's range, but they still managed to make it a tough chase. The openers, with ten overs to negotiate before the lunch break, took the frenzied approach and paid for it. Tonge set the tone for a very good evening by bowling Imran Nazir with a full ball in a wicket-maiden opening over, and then undid Kamran Akmal for seam and carry. Tonge understood the virtue of pitching the ball up, yet also got it to bite off the pitch on more than one occasion. He smacked Mohammad Yousuf in the ribs and should have had him on 1 but Darren Sammy erred at second slip.
Tonge bowled a very consistent line, showing an aptitude to test the batsmen by pitching it up; Shoaib Malik was drawn into a fatal drive. Tonge's length was immaculate and Yousuf's was the only wicket he got off a shorter length. Otherwise his variation was generally full or on a good length.
At 76 for 5, after Misbah-ul-Haq edged Bernard, the match could have swung either way. Umar's entrance brought some stability to the proceedings and with Afridi, calmed nerves and sealed victory. Umar displayed the virtues required to negate the pressure and turn the heat back on the fielders, backing himself to go over the top. Even a severe rap from a Tino Best beamer didn't deter young Umar from finishing the job. West Indies displayed remarkable fight, but were a few runs short as Pakistan crossed the finish line in the 31st over.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo