Akmal special sees Pakistan home

Pakistan 4 for 274 (Akmal 124, Inzamam 62*, Malik 60) beat West Indies 5 for 273 (Gayle 82, Sarwan 76) by 6 wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball commentary

Kamran Akmal silenced an expanding list of critics with a fabulous, first one-day international century that turned a difficult chase into a virtual stroll against West Indies at the Gabba. Both sides were desperate for victory to keep in touch with Australia, and Akmal's 124 off 125 balls pushed Pakistan to their best performance of an awful tour.

Backed by a batting line-up boasting matchwinners down to No.9, Akmal made sure they weren't needed as Pakistan won by six wickets with three overs to spare. The only downside was a hamstring tear to Shoaib Akhtar, who hobbled off the field in the fifth over with little sympathy from Inzamam-ul-Haq.

Akmal was tried four times as an opener against Zimbabwe and South Africa in 2002-03 before the experiment was ditched, and he waited two matches to make the second promotion a wild success. Questions about his ability were raised when he made an uncomfortable 5 against Australia at Hobart and Abdul Razzaq, Shahid Afridi and Azhar Mahmood were hanging with the tail. But Akmal opened his innings with a clean cover-drive and brought up his century with a similarly commanding shot.

While the West Indians waited for a slip-up, Akmal kept flourishing and apart from playing and missing twice on 95 there was not much else to complain about. He made sure his runs almost kept pace with balls faced and raised his bat to a standing dressing-room and a caring hug from Inzamam. A tired cover drive to Brian Lara ended his innings and after wicketkeeping for the first 50 overs he deserved the rest (4 for 239).

Akmal's 123-run partnership with Shoaib Malik provided the initial momentum and his 80-run stand with Inzaman, who was unbeaten on 62, snuffed out West Indies' hopes. Malik, still playing a batsman-only role after being reported for a suspect action, displayed some aggressive shot-making as he started with his eyes on the boundaries. His fifty followed Akmal's, and he celebrated a difficult tour with a mix of fluent drives and pulls. His innings was ended by a fine catch from Courtney Browne, who stood up to the fast bowler Ian Bradshaw (3 for 159).

After a slow start in the series opener at the MCG, Mervyn Dillon wasted no time getting involved. Replacing Bradshaw for the sixth over, Dillon hit Salman Butt's off stump with a searing yorker (1 for 28). His second wicket came when he forced a nick from Mohammad Hafeez and Chris Gayle was so calm in taking the low-down catch that he left the appealing to his team-mates (2 for 36).

West Indies, though, had batted themselves into a strong position after being inserted. They paced their innings to survive the morning movement as the match began at 9am, and it would not have been a surprise if they reached anywhere between 240 and 290 as their run-rate fluctuated. Their final total seemed highly competitive until Akmal and Malik started flaying.

Ramnaresh Sarwan's solid contribution of 76 from 91 balls was devalued when Pakistan batted, but his partnership with Lara got the innings travelling after Gayle opened with a composed 82. Lara arrived in the mood for quick runs and was soon moving at more than a run a ball. His late-cutting was exquisite and he was resourceful as well, flicking Afridi over Akmal for four, in an exciting short innings of 39 from 30 balls.

Lara was particularly tough on Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez, but also saved a big six for Abdul Razzaq, who was given similar treatment from Sarwan. The 60-run-stand in 8.4 overs ended when Naved-ul-Hasan tricked Lara to dab a short delivery to Hafeez at point, and he struck again in the same over when Ricardo Powell edged to Akmal, who took a sharp catch. (4 for 211)

West Indies' openers survived a difficult start and crawled to 26 from 10 overs as they waited to launch. The 10-over mark appeared to be Gayle's cue to free his arms and he hit four boundaries in two overs before smacking a couple more from Hafeez's first two deliveries. Next ball he slipped playing a sweep, aggravating an injury in his right shoulder that prevented him from bowling.

Gayle brought up his half-century from 56 balls to return his side to good health and was dismissed top-edging a pull off Razzaq (2 for 149). West Indies will require more from him if they are going to overhaul Pakistan for a place in the finals.

Peter English is Australasian editor of Cricinfo