KARACHI: The story of how the third Twenty20 International between Pakistan and the West Indies went ahead under a Covid-19 cloud was bigger than how the match went even if the hosts won a run-fest here at the National Stadium to complete a second successive series sweep.
Uncertainty had been building overnight when news outlets in the Caribbean first reported that a few West Indies players had contracted coronavirus. That news was confirmed early Thursday morning and only four hours before the game’s scheduled start it was finally confirmed that it would go ahead.
Having elected to bat, captain Nicholas Pooran’s 64 off 37 deliveries and good innings from openers Brandon King and Shamarh Brooks gave the West Indies hope of a consolation victory and — from what eventually transpired — a first victory on the tour as they amassed 207-3.
However, this Pakistan team is riding the crest of a wave at the moment. And with captain Babar Azam (79) and the prolific Mohammad Rizwan (87) leading from the front, they extinguished West Indies’ hopes very quickly with an opening stand of 158 that powered Pakistan to their highest-ever run chase in T20s with seven balls to spare.
The series triumph marked a second successive clean sweep for Pakistan following a 3-0 win in Bangladesh last month.
For the West Indies, the game marked the end of their current tour with an announcement coming midway through the match that the three-match ODI rubber between the two teams beginning from the weekend had been postponed until next year due to the Covid-19 cases.
Having seen New Zealand abandon their tour due to security concerns and England withdrawing their team from their scheduled trip due to mental health concerns earlier this year, Covid-19 has now robbed Pakistan of the chance to host West Indies for their full tour.
“It was very tough to play today,” Pooran said after the match. “We hadn’t slept all night from everything that had been happening. But I’m proud of how we came out and performed.”
Amid all the drama that had preceded the start of the game, Pooran was understandably shaken at the toss. He couldn’t even remember the changes made to the squad, saying there were three, while the team sheets showed only two.
At daybreak, Cricket West Indies had announced five more members of the team, including three players, had returned positive in the latest round of testing for Covid-19.
The players were wicket-keeper Shai Hope, also the skipper of the ODI team, left-arm spinner Akeal Hosein, arguably their best bowler in the already-lost series, and all-rounder Justin Greaves, a member of the ODI party. Assistant coach Roddy Estwick and physician Akshai Mansingh were also found to be positive after Wednesday’s tests.
They joined fast bowler Sheldon Cottrell, all-rounders Roston Chase and Kyle Mayers and support staff member — who had tested positive earlier — in a 10-day isolation or until they turned negative tests, further depleting a West Indies squad which had seen batter Devon Smith sustain a finger injury in the first T20 and had arrived in Pakistan short of their top players due to injury or otherwise.
The latest positives had sparked fears of a Covid outbreak in the team and players were reluctant in going ahead with the tour with concerns that further cases would see the West Indies players missing out on flying back home in time for Christmas. The ODI series was set to conclude on Dec 22.
It took a series of meetings between the CWI and the Pakistan Cricket Board before it was announced by the latter that the match was going ahead as scheduled.
Once the match began, it rained fours and sixes.
King, fresh from a match-high 67 in his side’s nine-run loss in the second T20, lifted Mohammad Nawaz over mid-wicket for four with his top-hand on the third ball of the West Indies’ innings and then cut the spinner-away for another boundary off the fourth.
He then pulled away Mohammad Hasnain, one of two changes for Pakistan alongside Shahnawaz Dahani, for four in the very next over.
King’s opening partner Shamarh Brooks got on the act in the third over by Nawaz, hitting him down the ground for four on the second ball. It set the momentum for the over with King hitting a massive six down mid-wicket on the fourth and then cutting away successive boundaries on the last two deliveries.
Another two boundaries followed for King in Hasnain’s second over and West Indies were racing away as they took Mohammad Wasim Jr to the sword in the sixth over.
First Brooks hit him over square leg for six before King’s stupendous pull landed on the roof of the stadium.
Wasim, though, had the last laugh, uprooting his off-stump with the final delivery of the over.
King made 43 off 20 deliveries, with West Indies making 66 in the powerplay overs.
Brooks got a slice of luck in the eighth over when both Iftikhar Ahmed and Hasnain got into a mix-up trying to take his catch, with the ball being missed by both.
And he made Pakistan pay for the let-off, hitting Shadab Khan for three sixes in the ninth over; the first over long on, the second over deep square leg and the third over long off.
Pakistan needed to stem the flow of runs and Dahani responded, having Brooks caught by Iftikhar for a 31-ball 49.
Pooran had been playing second fiddle to Brooks but came to the fore following his dismissal and was only dealing in sixes. He lifted Iftikhar for two in his only over and then hit a full toss by Wasim for another six before pulling Hasnain.
Darren Bravo, originally named for the ODIs but playing the match due to the Covid-enforced absences, was dropped on three and 11 before he pulled away Shadab for four and the West Indies were coasting.
Pooran got the first four of his innings when he hit Hasnain one-bounce at long-off before hitting him for six over square and soon completed his half-century.
He got another four and a six in the 18th over before departing when he was caught by Nawaz at long-on with the West Indies at 194.
Pakistan somewhat controlled the flow of runs in the last two overs, conceding just 13 with Bravo ending on 34 not out.
“They were very good in the last two overs,” admitted Pooran afterwards. “I think we were 30 runs short on this pitch.”
Their batsmen having put a big total on the board, the West Indies now needed their bowlers to deliver.
They almost had their moment on the first ball of the Pakistan innings. Debutant Gudakesh Motie’s strong appeal for a lbw decision against Rizwan was given the nod by umpire Rashid Riaz. But Rizwan immediately reviewed and survived.
From then on, there was no stopping Pakistan as Babar and Rizwan, knowing they had to score quickly, hit the West Indies to all parts of the ground.
“We knew we had a target to chase, and that we needed to start just like West Indies did,” man-of-the-match Rizwan said after the match.
By the time Babar eventually fell on the first ball of the 16th over, after hitting nine fours and two sixes in his 53-ball innings, Pakistan were well on their way to victory.
Rizwan completed a 12th half century in this calendar year, where he racked up a record 1,326 runs at a sparkling average of 73.66, and hit three sixes and 10 boundaries. When he was dismissed, Pakistan needed 24 runs off 16 deliveries.
Fakhar Zaman (12) followed soon after but Asif Ali, who had scores of one and seven in the opening two games, finally showed the power-hitting prowess a sizeable crowd had come to see, hitting two sixes and two fours to take Pakistan over the line.
Unfortunately, though, there will be no more international cricket in Pakistan until Australia tour in March.
B. King b Wasim 43 S. Brooks c Iftikhar b Dahani 49 N. Pooran c Nawaz b Wasim 64 D. Bravo not out 34 R. Powell not out 6 EXTRAS (LB-4, NB-2, W-5) 11 TOTAL (for three wickets, 20 overs) 207 DID NOT BAT: O. Smith, R. Shepherd, D. Drakes, H. Walsh, G. Motie, O. Thomas FALL OF WICKETS: 1-66 (King), 2-99 (Brooks), 3-192 (Pooran) BOWLING: Nawaz 3-0-36-0; Hasnain 4-0-49-0 (1w); Dahani 4-0-23-1 (1nb); Wasim 4-0-44-2 (1nb); Shadab 4-0-36-0 (4w); Iftikhar 1-0-15-0
M. Rizwan c Pooran b Drakes 87 Babar Azam c Shepherd b Smith 79 Fakhar Zaman c Brooks b Shepherd 12 Asif Ali not out 21 Iftikhar Ahmed not out 1 EXTRAS (NB-1, W-7) 8 TOTAL (for three wickets, 18.5 overs) 208 DID NOT BAT: Haider Ali, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Wasim, Mohammad Hasnain, Shahnawaz Dahani FALL OF WICKETS: 1-158 (Babar), 2-184 (Rizwan), 3-195 (Fakhar) BOWLING: Motie 4-0-29-0; Shepherd 3.5-0-53-1 (1nb, 2w); Drakes 4-0-37-1 (2w); Smith 3-0-34-1 (2w); Walsh 2-0-30-0 (1w); Thomas 2-0-25-0 RESULT: Pakistan win by seven wickets. MAN-OF-THE-MATCH: Mohammad Rizwan SERIES: Pakistan win three-match series 3-0. MAN-OF-THE-SERIES: Mohammad Rizwan UMPIRES: Aleem Dar, Rashid Riaz (both Pakistan) TV UMPIRE: Asif Yaqoob (Pakistan) Match referee: Mohammad Javed
Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2021