Tough contest set for final scrap

0
69

Tough, hard-fought cricket, along with the usual doses of excitement when you least expect them is on cards when Pakistan and the West Indies will meet in their fifth and final ODI at Gros Islet on Wednesday.

According to Cricinfo, star player makes umpteenth comeback, walks in at 47 for 5, cracks 76 off 55 and then takes other-worldly figures of 9-3-12-7. Home side rebound from the thrashing with a convincing win in the second game, then follow it up with a last-ball, last-wicket train robbery of a tie when they are all but derailed. West Indies and Pakistan, true to reputation, have given us what they were expected to.

And the Caribbean has given us another ODI series with twists and turns, following the tri-series also involving India and Sri Lanka. The balance between bat and ball, the absence of which renders so many one-day contests into one-dimensional batting gluts, has set this series up for one, final tussle between the two sides.

In what has become unfortunately recurring due to the forced change in the West Indies home season, rain influenced the result of the fourth game. It arrived while the Pakistan chase was on, and imposed a revised target. West Indies found their three specialist bowlers had already bowled most of their quota; Pakistan had lost only their openers. Although the conditions and the situation were more in favour of the chasing side than the defending one, it must be said that more than those two, Pakistan’s self-destructing tendency often proves to be their undoing. That they didn’t succumb to any of the three is creditable, and irrespective of what happens in the final game, they have maintained their record of not losing a bilateral ODI series in the West Indies since 1988. They have, in fact, won the last two, in 2005 and 2011; even another tie will suit them fine.

A lot has been said about West Indies’ improvement, recent and continuing, in limited-overs cricket. The improvement, however, does not seem to be translating itself clearly into results yet. In the past year, away series losses to Bangladesh and Australia, the latter a 0-5 whitewash, have been followed by an early exit from the Champions Trophy in England, and failure to make the final of a home tri-series. They are now faced with the task of winning the fifth match to avoid losing another home series to Pakistan. It is also crucial for Dwayne Bravo’s fledgling captaincy that he comes out of this scrap with a tied series.

In the spotlight would be Chris Gayle who’s worst year in ODIs, after his debut year in 1999, with an average just above 20. In a way, he is to the Caribbean what Shahid Afridi is to Pakistan. The star who towers above the rest of his team-mates, peerless in fan following. You don’t drop Afridi without expecting a backlash from the public; the same applies to Gayle. At 33, though, he is at an age where similar batsmen such as Virender Sehwag, batsmen who rely more on timing or power than on technique, have found it difficult to reinvent themselves in the face of dwindling returns. He was demoted to as low as No. 5 in the previous match and made 30 at a strike-rate of 65. How will he respond to this late challenge in his career?

Mohammad Hafeez needed that fifty in the previous game. He’d gone 11 innings for a lone score of 50-plus, a century against Ireland. While Hafeez’s bowling in limited-overs is always handy, he is also a top-order batsman, and the Twenty20 captain. Given the long struggle to prove himself that Hafeez’s career has been, you sense that the feeling of insecurity somehow still lurks somewhere inside, and is likely to worsen matters when the runs are not coming. It also does not help that Hafeez is a rhythm player, and when the rhythm deserts him, it really does. Has he regained it after that 59?

West Indies demoted Gayle and chose Devon Smith to open instead in the previous game. Another failure for Smith followed, but it will be unfair on him if he gets just the one chance.

Given Ahmed Shehzad’s continuing struggles, Pakistan have the choice of opening with Asad Shafiq, who’s batted at the top before on a few occasions. Umar Amin played the tour match against Guyana but hasn’t got a game yet in the series. He is another option.

Marlon Samuels, on rediscovering his touch believes: “I had a good talk with Dr Scott Hamilton [West Indies’ sports psychologist] and I was trying to refresh my memory of the way my style of play is. My style of play is given myself a chance and pushes it around, and then I can definitely make up at the end.”