Tony Becca | So close, but still so far
I wish I was at Windsor Park last week, not only in an attempt to swell the small, colourful and energetic crowd, but also to revel in the lovely action and the unexpected nature of cricket, as bitter as the ending was for West Indians everywhere, and to enjoy the West Indies fight for survival.
For five days, the third Test match between the West Indies and Pakistan paraded everything the game has to offer - good batting by a few, good bowling by all, good fielding by Pakistan, and good and tactical captaincy from both leaders.
In fact, the second and third Test matches produced what Test cricket is famous, loved, and respected for, and has been for well over 100 years - a demonstration of good, technical, and skilful play in most cases. A no-holds-barred contest, a battle to the end, drama, intrigue, excitement, and the ever presence of the unexpected.
And the third Test, played on a slow, lifeless pitch, and before a small crowd, and despite runs coming at around 2.5 runs per over throughout the match, was a cliffhanger. The West Indies, needing 304 to win, were struggling at 93 for six in the 44th over halfway on the fifth day before losing with six deliveries to go, 102 to win, and after the last four wickets had survived for 52 overs.
And at that time, with only seven deliveries to go, with Roston Chase on 101 and set to face the last over from a pacer, Shannon Gabriel, a rank number 11 in any form of cricket, after outdoing himself by blocking 21 deliveries, with all nine outfielders perched around his bat, suddenly and inexplicably, swung wildly and across a wide delivery from leg-spinner Yasir Shah and knocked the ball onto his stumps to lose the match by 101 runs.
At the sound of the rattle of stumps, Yasir Shaw raced away and ended up sprawling on the lush green of Windsor Park before he was lifted high by his delirious and ecstatic teammates.
Pakistan had won the match and, by winning the match, had won the series 2-1, their first in the West Indies, they had handed Younis Khan and captain Misbah-ul-Haq a fitting farewell to Test cricket.
In a moment of madness, Gabriel, probably in his mind, had failed: he had missed the shot which could have won the match for the West Indies, the shot which had he hit the ball flush, and had he hit it hard enough and far enough, would have won the match.
That is except for one thing: as far as I know, one shot has never ever gone so far that it warranted a count of 102 runs.
SILLY PLAY BUT ...
Was the loss Gabriel's fault? Not really, although, for him to play a stroke to a delivery pitched so far off the wicket in such a situation was silly.
As a number 11 of really poor batting skills, he fought well, and for a long time, before, with Yasir Shah bowling at him and all the fielders gathered around him, and probably remembering the dismissals of batsmen Kieron Powell and Shane Dowrich while plodding forward, probably decided that attack was the better form of defence.
It was, however, a tough ending to a series in which the West Indies had uncharacteristically showed some spunk and, except for most of the first Test, fought like tigers, despite being the inferior team in batting and in fielding.
When Pakistan arrived in the West Indies two months ago, they were bubbling with confidence and wearing the favourites tag to beat the West Indies in all three encounters. When they left for home last week, it was, as far as they were concerned, mission accomplished.
Up to a few months before that, Pakistan were ranked the No. 1 Test team in the world and, although they had fallen since, with players like Karam Akmal, Shoaib Malik, and Wahab Riaz, they were expected to win the T20 series. With one like Mohammed Hafeez joining the team, they were also expected to win the ODI contest, and then with captain Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan, Mohammed Amir, and Yasir Shah in action, they were a shoo-in for the Test series.
The West Indies, however, with their two debutants, Shimron Hetmyer and Vishaul Singh, who failed to distinguish themselves as batsmen, and one of whom probably was selected due to the absence of Darren Bravo, stood up, fought the good fight, and only succumbed in the end due to the lack of skill.
The truth is that apart from Chase, who had a brilliant series with two centuries and two fifties in six innings for a total of 403 runs and a beautiful average of 100.75, and captain Jason Holder, who finished second with 187 runs for an average of 45.55, no other batsman did anything.
KEPT INNINGS TIGHT
Against that, the bowlers, with the exception of a spate of no-balls, bowled well. The pacers were good, with Holder, the third seamer, keeping things tight all the way through, as his figures, 113.4 overs, 210 runs, 10 wickets at an average 21.00, suggest.
Alzaari Joseph, especially in the second Test, bowled well to hint that, at 20 years old, the future is looking good, while Gabriel, despite his many no-balls and his collapse as a batsman in the final stage of the third Test, bowled well on most occasions and superbly in the second innings of the second Test match, with figures if 11 overs, 11 runs, and five wickets.
The series was not a good one for the batsmen, except for Chase; Azhar Ali, who also got two centuries; and for Misbah-ul-Haq, who was, unfortunately, left stranded once on 99 and was dismissed once on 99, and while the bowlers did creditably well, probably partly due to the poor pitches. It was overall a poor series between two weak batting teams, one which fielded and caught well and one which did not, and one which boasted a match-winning bowler throughout and one which did not.
The men of the series were, for the West Indies, Chase; Holder; and Gabriel, for his bowling; and for Pakistan, they were Ali; Misbah; Mohammed Amir, 13 wicket at an average of 17.45; Yasir Shah; and, of course, Younis Khan, for his incredible catching in the slips.
For the West Indies, it was a series void of good batting, but for Chase - and to an extent of Holder - one of poor fielding and a series which showed up the poor pitches, especially that of Kensington Oval.
It was a series in which, surprisingly, the West Indies lost but never changed the team, and also surprisingly, never played Jermaine Blackwood - neither for his batting nor for his fielding when the need was obvious, especially for the third Test.
It was, however, a series in which the West Indies stood up and fought a lovely, intriguing, and dramatic fight, almost to the end.
There is still, however, much, much work to be done.