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Pakistan's sixth tour of the West Indies was their shortest and most successful, a month-long swing through four islands that started with a clean sweep of the three one-day internationals and concluded with a comprehensive victory in the second of the two Tests to square the series.
Pakistan failed to end their record of never having won a Test series in the Caribbean. But although this latest instalment of the 47-year-old rivalry lacked the consistent quality of bygone duels between the likes of Clive Lloyd and Imran Khan, two talented but chronically inconsistent sides made it dangerous to look away from the action for fear of missing an exhibition of awe-inspiring brilliance or bewildering lunacy, often within a few minutes of each other. Pakistan, bolstered by their resurgence in India a few weeks earlier, arrived expecting to get the better of a team still in the throes of internal turmoil caused by the long-running contractual wrangles involving Digicel, the new sponsors, and their predecessors Cable & Wireless. That dispute cost Brian Lara the captaincy, which passed to the unassuming Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and the team's confidence had been further eroded after they surrendered both the Test and one-day series to South Africa in the first part of the Caribbean season. This followed the sound beatings from Australia and England in the previous two home seasons.
The supporters voted with their feet. After Pakistan's 3-0 success in the one-dayers, where the greater experience of Inzamam-ul-Haq's team held sway in the few key moments of some generally undistinguished matches, attendances at the Tests in Barbados and Jamaica were poor. It was a statement of disillusionment and outright disgust with the state of West Indian cricket.
The combined all-round talents of Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq were vital elements in Pakistan's one-day victories in St Vincent and St Lucia, and they hardly appeared to be missing the tearaway fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, who had been omitted from the squad, supposedly on fitness grounds (although Inzamam may have given the game away when he talked of his being a disruptive influence).
Yet his absence, and that of Mohammad Sami who really was injured, left Inzamam relying heavily on Danish Kaneria and Shabbir Ahmed. They rose to the challenge. Despite growing disquiet about his bowling action - it still raised eyebrows despite recent remodelling, and he was reported to the ICC again after the First Test - Shabbir claimed 13 wickets in the two Tests with a combination of sharp pace and steep bounce, while Kaneria bowled his side to victory at Sabina Park with a mesmerising display of wrist-spin, the quality of which few of his opponents would have encountered anywhere - certainly not at home, where spin is a dying, discouraged art. One who did come to terms with Kaneria, dishing out some fearful punishment, was Lara. Relishing the challenge of taking on a quality spinner, he produced two superbly crafted hundreds in the first innings of both Tests. But on a gloomy fourth afternoon at Sabina Park, Kaneria snaffled him for a duck and effectively settled the match.
Chanderpaul remained devoid of the charisma and magnetism of his predecessor as captain, but was nevertheless full of steely commitment. His innings of 92 and 153 not out in the First Test went a long way towards finally earning him a victory as West Indies' captain. Pakistan were very depleted and distracted for that opening Test, when Inzamam was banned and a dressing-room row between Afridi and Younis Khan, the stand-in captain, distracted the team from their primary task. The strong leadership needed to stabilise Pakistan's loose cannons resurfaced in Jamaica, where Inzamam's half-century and unbeaten 117 underlined his immense value to a mercurial team.
The same could be said of Lara and Chanderpaul for West Indies, but their bowlers also have to deliver. In this Test series two of them did: even at their best they still rely on match-winning bowlers to ignite hopes of a Caribbean resurgence somewhere down the line. Fidel Edwards's secondday burst in Barbados paved the way for a crushing victory, while Corey Collymore's 11-wicket haul despite defeat in Jamaica was the reward for discipline and persistence.
Yet the obsession with pace - the legacy of a history replete with great fast-bowling deeds - leaves West Indies looking one-dimensional and out of step with the demands of the modern game, a blinkered view that is occasionally exposed in all its stubborn inadequacy when guileful bowlers like Kaneria do the damage for the opposition.
Match reports for
Antigua & Barbuda President's XI v Pakistanis at St John's, May 15, 2005