The Men in Maroon looked down and out in the majority of their run chase against Pakistan in the second Twenty20 International at the Providence Stadium, Guyana on Saturday (July 31), but Nicholas Pooran (33-ball 62*) went berserk in the final five overs and almost won the game for West Indies. The wicketkeeper-batsman whacked four fours and six maximums but didn't find any support from the other end as the hosts fell short by just seven runs.
Pakistan's versatile bowling attack did just enough to restrain a rampant Pooran, with Mohammad Hafeez finishing with match-winning figures of 1/6 across his four overs. This was the joint-most economical four-over spell for Pakistan in T20Is. Mohammad Amir took 2/6 against the UAE. Following a rain-ruined opening encounter in Barbados three days earlier, Babar Azam's team will go into the third match of the series on Sunday with a 1-0 lead.
Earlier, Pakistan got off to a solid start but collapsed in the final four overs. They were 85/1 in the first 10 overs but kept losing wickets in the second half of the innings. Mohammad Rizwan (36-ball 46) and Azam (40-ball 51) added 67 runs for the second wicket but both scored at a strike rate of less than 130. The surface started to slow down a bit and the spinners bowled with good control. However, it was Jason Holder (4/26) and Dwayne Bravo (2/24) who did most of the damage in the last four overs. There was a short rain break and Pakistan lost six wickets for 23 runs in the final four overs after the play resumed.
Chasing 158, the hosts struggled to get going and allowed Mohammad Hafeez and Co. to dictate terms. With 74 needed off 30 deliveries, Pooran hit 56 in his last 20 deliveries but Kieron Pollard (14-ball 13) couldn't get his timing right. West Indies needed 20 in the final over but Shaheen Afridi claimed the wicket of Pollard and denied the rampant Pooran the opportunity to swing freely. The left-hander could only hit one four and a six in the last four deliveries, as West Indies finished on 150/4.
West Indies were again undone in their run chase by the number of scoreless deliveries - 47. However, one can take nothing away from Hafeez. The 40-year-old bowled with great control and gave nothing away in his four overs. Bowling the first over of the innings, the veteran off-spinning all-rounder bowled Andre Fletcher with his second ball and kept West Indies on the back foot in the powerplay.
"Knowing these conditions and having played cricket here before in the Caribbean Premier League certainly helped as I knew it would be difficult for the batsmen. hey are very powerful players so the challenge is always to keep a tight line every time," said Hafeez at the end of the match.
Pollard, who played the supporting role in a 70-run fourth-wicket partnership with Pooran to revive the West Indies chances, gave credit to his bowlers for limiting their opponents after he chose to put them in to bat. "We were staring down the barrel of a 170-plus total and I was really happy with the way the bowlers battled back in the latter half of their innings," he observed, before putting a positive spin on the run chase.
"We had to try and explode towards the end but it just didn't work out, however, the way Evin (Lewis) and Hetty (Shimron Hetmyer) kept things going in the middle overs was quite pleasing."
West Indies suffered a setback when opening batsman Lewis retired hurt on 35 midway through the innings. While enjoying the win, Azam felt his team should have gotten more runs on the board. "We were 10-15 runs short but we have to give thanks to the bowlers for the way they kept the West Indies batsmen in check. Losing back-to-back wickets is something we have to improve on in the final overs and we hope to do better in the last two matches."
It was Jason Holder and Dwayne Bravo who combined to put the brakes on the Pakistan scoring rate. Holder returned with excellent figures of 4/26 while Bravo, the veteran all-rounder and leading wicket-taker in all T20 cricket, claimed 2/24 as the tourists squandered a solid platform provided by Azam and Rizwan.
Azam top-scored for Pakistan and crafted four fours and two sixes during his stay in the middle. He put on 67 runs for the third wicket with Rizwan after Sharjeel Khan and Rizwan had set the stage by putting on 46 runs for the opening wicket in just 4.4 overs. However, the demise of Rizwan for 46 via the run out route interrupted the smooth flow of the visitors' innings.
In the mad dash through the final overs to lift the flagging scoring rate Pakistan lost four wickets in the space of eight deliveries as the discipline, accuracy and clever variations of Holder and Bravo brought its reward. However, Pakistan had just enough runs on the board to ensure they got 1-0 lead in the series with two more games left.
(With inputs from AFP)