Azam, Malik inspire Pakistan’s series win

Pakistan followed up their 3-0 T20I series win by sealing the ODI series with yet another clinical display against West Indies in Sharjah. Pakistan’s 59-run win was set up by their most and least experienced batsmen – Shoaib Malik and Babar Azam – who combined to display the art of batting through the middle overs on a slow surface to lead them to 337 for 5, the third-highest total in Sharjah.

Azam struck a chanceless century, his second successive one, and Malik blitzed 90 as the pair strung together 169, Pakistan’s highest stand for the third wicket against West Indies. In reply, West Indies found the chase too steep and could only manage 278 for 7.

Openers Azhar Ali and Sharjeel Khan put West Indies under pressure from the outset after Pakistan opted to bat. Sharjeel used his bottom hand to clear the infield regularly, collecting three fours and a six in his 12-ball 24 before West Indies hit back, removing both batsmen in the space of three balls.

Thereafter, Azam and Malik stalled West Indies with sound technique and calculated risks. Azam pierced the field while Malik went over it, both equally effective in collecting frequent boundaries and keeping the score moving. Sulieman Benn’s introduction was delayed, but Malik capitalised on the bowler’s modus operandi of flight and loop from around the wicket.

Malik struck five sixes off Benn – three in succession in the 27th over – by shimmying down, getting underneath the ball and going over the arc between long-on and midwicket. The period between overs 21 and 35 yielded 107 in conditions not suited to effortless run-scoring.

In between, Azam unfurled classy drives through cover and found gaps in the outfield to accumulate runs. After Malik carved one to point, Azam utilised Pakistan’s strong platform. His 126-ball 123 included nine fours and a six, which indicated his ability to maintain a high strike rate through ones and twos. Neither Malik nor Azam offered even a “half-chance” until their dismissals.

Towards the latter stages of the innings, West Indies seemed to stall Pakistan’s ease at finding the boundary through clever variations in pace until Sarfraz Ahmed plundered four fours in five balls in the 47th over. Sarfraz struck an unbeaten 60, but it went largely unnoticed behind Azam and Malik’s pyrotechnics.

West Indies needed to pull off the highest successful chase in Sharjah to stay alive in the series, but their innings got the same start as the four previous games on this tour: an early wicket. Johnson Charles, looking to clear the off-side infield, toe-ended a catch to cover off Mohammad Amir to start the slide.

Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Bravo were left with the task of stabilising the innings in the face of some accurate bowling. Their 89-run second-wicket stand was built on the back of some sweetly-timed boundaries and plenty of singles, but it also took up 118 balls – not quick enough for a steep chase in tough run-scoring conditions.

However, West Indies remained in the fight as Bravo took the onus of accelerating by attacking left-arm spinners Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz. He struck three sixes over long-on off overpitched deliveries, two of which cleared the ground.

Hasan Ali, though, removed Bravo with an athletic piece of fielding off his own bowling. Bravo nudged a yorker towards short leg and Hasan sprang towards the ball in his follow-through, picked up while sliding, turned around and fired an accurate throw at the non-striker’s end, all in one swift motion.

Marlon Samuels was up against a mounting asking rate and a wily bowling side. He stuck around for 52 balls and struck 57, but the enormity of the task in front of West Indies meant that his effort didn’t suffice.

Eventually, the asking rate was too steep an ask even for West Indies’ powerful middle order. That they couldn’t capitalise on six dropped chances by Pakistan told the story.

Nikhil Kalro is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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