KARACHI: There was a moment at the National Stadium on Tuesday when the West Indies probably felt they could pull off an improbable win.
Even with just his forehand, Brandon King found the perfect connection.
Shadab Khan could only look up into the night sky to see where the ball went; and then just stared at King.
One-handed, King had smashed him over his head and over the boundary, taking this second-string West Indies — missing several of their big-name players and in a state of rebuilding following their dismal T20 World Cup campaign — to 102-3, 71 runs away from victory with six overs to go.
A sparse crowd at the venue could’ve been forgiven for thinking they might see their team on the losing side.
But Pakistan captain Babar Azam brought on Mohammad Wasim Jr and he engineered West Indies’ downfall.
Rovman Powell was dismissed and King soon followed, his dismissal for a match-high 67 all but ending West Indies’ hopes of taking the three-match Twenty20 International series into a decider on Thursday.
Shaheen Shah Afridi’s three wickets in a single over then seemed to have put the game beyond West Indies’ reach but Romario Shepherd’s late fireworks brought them close.
They only lost by nine runs after being dismissed for 163 on the final ball of their innings, a massive improvement on their showing in the opening match on Monday where they were thumped by 63 runs.
Pakistan, though, have another series victory, following their 3-0 whitewash of Bangladesh last month. Their Twenty20 juggernaut keeps rolling on. This was their 10th win in 11 matches — the only defeat coming in the semi-finals to eventual champions Australia at the Twenty20 World Cup.
This time, they won thanks to some late order hitting from Iftikhar Ahmed (32 off 19) and man-of-the-match Shadab Khan (28 off 12) who took Pakistan to 172-8 in their 20 overs.
“Shadab’s innings was outstanding,” Babar said after the match. “His innings was crucial in providing us with a total to defend.”
For a second successive game, it fell to Mohammad Rizwan and Haider Ali to resurrect Pakistan innings after another early wobble.
For a second straight night, they repaired some damage but it wasn’t similar to the one that had left the West Indies on the ropes in the opening game of the series where the duo ended with half-centuries in a 105-run stand.
Captain Babar Azam’s run out, trying to steal a single, and Fakhar Zaman’s stumping had left the hosts at 38-2 when Haider joined Rizwan at the crease.
With West Indies spinners not letting Pakistan score freely, they combined for 48 before Rizwan, seemingly poised for another big score in this prolific, record-breaking year of his, chased a wide Odean Smith delivery to the fielder at short cover. He hit a six and four boundaries in a 30-ball 38.
With the final match of the series to come on Thursday, Rizwan has 1239 runs from 28 matches.
Haider, who made a sluggish start and departed soon after as he tried to accelerate and push Pakistan to a big total.
When he was caught by an on-rushing Shamarh Brooks on the point boundary for 31 off 34 deliveries, Pakistan were 109-4 with six overs to go.
Mohammad Nawaz, promoted up the order following his 30-run cameo in the first match, fell in the next over, caught at mid-wicket off Hayden Walsh.
Asif Ali was expected to provide the final flourish and pulled Odean Smith for a six over mid-wicket but was gone for nine in the following over by Shepherd with Rovman Powell running in to claim a diving catch.
It was in the last three overs that Pakistan pushed on the pedal — thanks largely to Iftikhar and Shadab.
Iftikhar, who had come to the crease following Rizwan’s departure, had just one boundary in his first 15 deliveries.
But he came to the fore in the 18th over, pulling away Oshane Thomas for a six on the third delivery and followed it with another on the fifth, this time clearing long-off.
Iftikhar, though, didn’t stay long and was caught behind on the final ball of the over but nevertheless setting up the stage for Shadab to lift Pakistan to a big total.
An inside edge went past fine leg for a four in the penultimate over before he hit Dominic Drakes for a six straight down the ground and over long-off and Mohammad Wasim Jr joined the party, improvising for a scooped boundary.
Two of the first three balls of the final over went over the fence with Shadab hitting the first over long-off and the other over long-on.
“At the position I bat on, in the death overs, I usually get to play only four to five balls so in practice I try to keep that in mind,” Shadab said afterwards. “Today, that hitting practice paid off.”
Wasim was run out on the next-to-last ball of the innings but Pakistan had got 45 in the last three overs and there was a feeling that they had done enough. Only just in the end.
King had got off the mark with an inside edge off a Shaheen yorker that flew past wicket-keeper Rizwan to the boundary.
But he grew into confidence with a six off Nawaz that sailed over long-off in the following over.
Fellow opener Shai Hope, however, couldn’t stay long and mistimed a Wasim delivery to Iftikhar at midwicket.
New batsman Brooks got a lucky inside edge that went for four and then smashed Wasim over the midwicket boundary before being trapped lbw by Nawaz.
King and his skipper Nicholas Pooran then combined for a 54-run partnership, the duo keeping the scoreboard ticking with ones and twos and the occasional boundary.
Pooran departed for a run-a-ball 26 on the last ball of the 11th over; trying to hit Nawaz across the line and being caught splendidly by Haris Rauf, who came running in from long-off.
King reached his 50 in the 13th over and then hit Shadab for that towering six but Wasim shifted the momentum back towards Pakistan, dismissing Powell with a slower one.
King, though, was undaunted. His thumping drive off Wasim in the same over had too much power and even though Babar got a hand to it, he couldn’t prevent him from reaching the fence.
He then pulled Haris Rauf for the third six of his innings, only to perish on the next ball, caught by Nawaz at long-on. He also hit six boundaries in his 43-ball innings.
Odean Smith hit Haris for a six but became the first victim in Shaheen’s three-wicket 17th over when he was caught spectacularly by Asif in the deep. Shaheen then had Dominic Drakes caught behind on the last ball of the over and then cleaned up Walsh.
Shepherd hit two sixes and two fours in his 35 not out, including a six and a four in Haris’ final over, but they still fell short with Haris giving Pakistan the perfect victory moment when he castled tailender Oshane Thomas on the final ball of the West Indies innings.
“It’s a tough one for us,” Pooran said after the match. “Of course it was a big improvement from yesterday. We bowled well and planned to bat for the full 20 overs. We felt we had this one here.”
Mohammad Rizwan c Hope b Smith 38
Babar Azam run out 7
Fakhar Zaman st Pooran b Hosein 10
Haider Ali c Brooks b Smith 31
Iftikhar Ahmed c Pooran b Thomas 32
Mohammad Nawaz c Powell b Walsh 1
Asif Ali c Powell b Shepherd 9
Shadab Khan not out 28
Mohammad Wasim run out 5
Haris Rauf not out 0
EXTRAS (LB-4, W-7) 11
TOTAL (for eight wickets, 20 overs) 172
DID NOT BAT: Shaheen Shah Afridi
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-14 (Babar), 2-38 (Fakhar), 3-86 (Rizwan), 4-109 (Haider), 5-111 (Nawaz), 6-124 (Asif), 7-141 (Iftikhar), 8-171 (Wasim)
BOWLING: Hosein 4-0-16-1; Thomas 3-0-35-1; Shepherd 3-0-29-1; Walsh 4-0-30-1; Drakes 3-0-34-0 (6w); Smith 3-0-24-2 (1w)
S. Hope c Iftikhar b Wasim 1
B. King c Nawaz b Haris 67
S. Brooks lbw b Nawaz 10
N. Pooran c Haris b Nawaz 26
R. Powell c Fakhar b Wasim 4
O. Smith c Asif b Shaheen 12
R. Shepherd not out 35
D. Drakes c Rizwan b Shaheen 0
H. Walsh c Rizwan b Shaheen 0
Akeal Hossein run out 2
O. Thomas b Haris 0
EXTRAS (W-6) 6
TOTAL (all out, 20 overs) 163
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-17 (Hope), 2-31 (Brooks), 3-85 (Pooran), 4-102 (Powell), 5-118 (King), 6-127 (Smith), 7-131 (Drakes), 8-131 (Walsh), 9-149 (Hossein)
BOWLING: Shaheen 4-0-26-3 (3w); Nawaz
4-0-36-2; Wasim 4-0-39-2 (1w); Haris 4-0-40-2 (1w); Shadab 4-0-22-0
RESULT: Pakistan win by nine runs.
MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Shadab Khan
SERIES: Pakistan take 2-0 lead in three-match series.
UMPIRES: Ahsan Raza, Asif Yaqoob (both Pakistan)
TV UMPIRE: Rashid Riaz (Pakistan)
MATCH REFEREE: Mohammad Javed (Pakistan)
Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2021