Some­thing to smile about

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORTS -

THE FIRST Test match against Pak­istan ended in Dubai last Mon­day in a thrilling, ex­cit­ing, and al­most dra­matic fash­ion.

It ended, sur­pris­ingly, in al­most vic­tory for the West Indies.

Go­ing into the match short on con­fi­dence af­ter be­ing the beat­ing stick of al­most of ev­ery jack man in cricket, and af­ter los­ing the T20 and the ODI as­sign­ments 6-0, and eas­ily at that, the ex­pec­ta­tion go­ing into the Test match was for noth­ing less than a 3-0 thump­ing.

And against Pak­istan, who, de­spite their pre­vi­ous show­ing against Eng­land in Eng­land, are known as cricket’s most in­con­sis­tent per­form­ers, good to­day and un­recog­nis­ably bad to­mor­row.

And af­ter get­ting away to an as­ton­ish­ing start at 215 be­fore the first wicket fell, to 352 be­fore the sec­ond wicket, to 517 be­fore the third wicket fell, and to reach 579 for three de­clared, with Azhar Ali post­ing 302 not out, the feel­ing was “here we go again” with a sound thrash­ing in sight. It was even worse when, un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, the West Indies’ best bowler, Deven­dra Bishoo, fin­ished with two wick­ets for 125 runs off 35 mis­er­able overs. The end, how­ever, was not as many ex­pected it be. The West Indies, in­stead of crum­bling on what the West In­di­ans de­scribed as a slow, un­kind pitch, sur­pris­ingly put up a fairly good show, with top bats­men Dar­ren Bravo and Mar­lon Sa­muels con­tribut­ing nicely to a first in­nings of 357 runs. Not sur­pris­ingly, Pak­istan did not en­force the fol­low-on, pre­fer­ring, as most cap­tains do these days, to bat the op­po­si­tion out of the Test match. The plan, no doubt, was to get around 180, or so, for the loss of a few wick­ets, add that to their lead of 222, and to leave them­selves with enough time to bowl out the West Indies a sec­ond time. You can bet your bot­tom

dol­lar that af­ter scor­ing such a mas­sive first-in­nings score, and that hav­ing things easy, Pak­istan never even fig­ured, at that time, that they could lose the match.

They would just go, rat­tle up a few runs, and let loose legspin­ner Yashir Shaw on the fifth-day pitch.

Bishoo, the right-arm legspin­ner, who, a few years ago, was named the best young crick­eter of the year, but who never lived up to his po­ten­tial, had other ideas, how­ever, and in a short while, in 31.5 overs, Pak­istan were in and out, rolled over for 123.

Bishoo, “bowl­ing straighter and at the stumps” than in the first in­nings when he “bowled short and at a fourth or fifth stump out­side the off-stump”, ripped through Pak­istan’s bat­ting, claim­ing eight wick­ets for 49 runs off 13.5 overs.

The end re­ally came quickly, and Pak­istan re­ally re­alised that they were in dan­ger, not when they were 112 for 4, but when their last six wick­ets crashed for 11 runs.

“I pitched the ball up, I pitched it on the wicket and in the rough, and that was that. We had a chance of win­ning the Test match,” Bishoo said.

Some time around 10:30 on Sun­day morn­ing, Reds Per­reira tele­phoned me from St Lu­cia. He asked me if I had heard the score, and he told me Pak­istan were 121 for eight and that Bishoo had picked up six wick­ets.

Fif­teen min­utes or so later, Eas­ton Mc­Mor­ris, as he usu­ally does, tele­phoned me and asked me if I thought that we could win. West Indies bats­man Dar­ren Bravo.

“Win what?” I asked him. “The Test match”, Mc­Mor­ris said. “You don’t hear the score? We bowled them out for 123 ... Bishoo run through them.”

It was then that I sat up straight. “Maybe. Three hun­dred and forty-odd is a lot to get, es­pe­cially on a turner. Bravo and Sa­muels will have to bat out of their skin for us to win.”

Af­ter that, my tele­phone kept ring­ing all day. Peo­ple kept call­ing and ask­ing, as if I had a crys­tal ball in my hand, if the West Indies would win, or if they could win.

If Bravo and Sa­muels both bat well, maybe they could.

BRAVO BAT WELL

Bravo did bat well, un­be­liev­ably well on a fifth-day pitch, prob­a­bly the best by a West In­dian on a fifth-day pitch.

At close on Sun­day, the West Indies were 95 for two, Bravo and Sa­muels were not out, and the hope of a stun­ning and sur­pris­ing win was still alive.

As fate would have it, Sa­muels was out to the first ball of the day, and al­though Bravo bat­ted on to score 116 runs off 249 de­liv­er­ies, the 251 runs that were then needed, the tar­get of 346 runs was al­ways a lit­tle too far. It was al­ways a dis­tant dream.

When all was said and done, it would have been the sev­en­th­high­est to­tal to win a Test match. And it might have been, but for some cricket ear­lier on, but for Bravo’s late dis­missal, and but for some care­less run­ning between the wick­ets at the end.

It was just six runs less than Sri Lanka made against South Africa in 2006 to win a match.

It was al­ways a chal­lenge, a stiff one at that, and against one

like Yashir Shaw on a turn­ing pitch, it was al­most im­prob­a­ble, if not im­pos­si­ble, for a team like the West Indies team at the mo­ment.

Pak­istan’s bats­man played ter­ri­bly in that sec­ond in­nings, and maybe it was be­cause of their im­pres­sive first-in­nings per­for­mance.

It was, how­ever, some good bowl­ing by Bishoo, some good bat­ting by Bravo, and the hope is that they will con­tinue to per­form in such man­ner, not in tak­ing eight wick­ets all the time, not in scor­ing a cen­tury ev­ery time, but in bowl­ing well and in bat­ting well most of the time.

This West Indies team is not the best in the world, but it is also not so bad that a lit­tle pride, a lit­tle fight, a lit­tle dis­ci­pline in their play, and a lit­tle im­prove­ment in the thought process can­not change.

What hap­pened in Dubai last Sun­day should help to con­vince the fans that all is not lost in West Indies cricket, that the per­for­mance of the team does not nec­es­sar­ily de­pend on the per­for­mance of the board, and that what hap­pens on the field de­pends al­most en­tirely on the play­ers.

The play­ers are the ones who play the game.

Af­ter fac­ing a mas­sive 579 for three de­clared and the dreaded fol­low-on, the West Indies routed Pak­istan, the num­ber-two ranked team in the world, for next to noth­ing and bat­tled into the last hour of the Test match to lose by 56 runs and 12 overs, and that, af­ter bat­ting once for 123.5 overs and again for 109 overs.

It was the sec­ond-high­est num­ber of overs the West Indies had ever bat­ted in the sec­ond in­nings of a Test match.

Leg-spin­ner Deven­dra Bishoo.

Tony Becca

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