A career-best unbeaten 125 by Babar Azam, followed by a clinical bowling performance, ensured Pakistan eased to a 74-run win to level the three-match series. Set 283 to win, West Indies wilted early despite beginning the chase with attacking intent. That purposefulness came at the cost of early wickets, with both openers back in the pavilion by the fifth over.
In a bizarre departure from the approach that had been so successful for the home side in the first game, West Indies continued to press on rather than ensure they had enough wickets in hand for the closing stages. Inevitably, they kept losing wickets playing shots that weren’t so much attacking as they were rash, and before you knew it, they had slipped to 56 for 5, and the game was effectively over as a contest.
After that, it was left to Pakistan’s spinners to asphyxiate what remained of the West Indies’ batting line-up. Jason Holder and Ashley Nurse gave the crowd – a large, expectant turnout in the wake of the first game’s heroics – some light entertainment with a breezy 58-run partnership, but even as the clouds gathered in the distance, lightning was never going to strike twice, as Hasan Ali finished with 5 for 38.
Even as the game drifted off to its inevitable conclusion, captain Holder displayed his competitive spirit with a fighting half-century, his combination of sweet timing and incredible power making batting look a lot easier than it had seemed when those higher up the order had been in the middle. He gave Shadab Khan the respect he has indisputably earned with his performances over the last fortnight, but was at times disdainful of Pakistan’s storied pace bowling attack, never more so than when he dispatched Mohammad Amir for 16 in an over, smashing one six and two fours.
Hasan – who bowled only five overs in the first game – was the pick of Pakistan’s pace trio, extracting nippy movement off a good length that particularly ruffled the right-handers. He was the one who ripped the heart out of the West Indies top-order, dismissing Shai Hope and Kieran Powell in quick succession; the one who ended Nurse’s spirited resistance, and the one who killed off the last vestige of West Indian hope when he got rid of Alzarri Joseph to end a 52-run ninth-wicket partnership. Fittingly, he was the one who accounted for Holder to seal the win, and a fully deserved five-wicket haul.
Pakistan had earlier posted 282 despite looking horribly unconvincing with the bat for much of the first innings, a late surge ensuring they reached a total they would have gladly accepted just seven overs earlier, thanks largely to Babar. Batting again at No.3 after a head-scratching demotion last game, Babar formed the spine of the innings as batsmen around him struggled to build on starts. He held the innings together when it threatened to disintegrate, and provided the late fireworks when it looked like it might stagnate. A two-paced surface made batting challenging, as did a much-improved bowling performance from the hosts.
This total had seemed well out of Pakistan’s reach until the last seven overs – in which 84 runs were scored. It was telling that West Indies’ worst spell of bowling came about just as Babar and Imad Wasim finally began to swing freely, to the extent that the crucial last over of the innings was left to medium pacer Jonathan Carter – no one’s first choice as a death bowler, or any bowler for that matter. Five of Pakistan’s six sixes came off the last three overs – two off the hapless Carter in a 50th over that cost 19.
After an uncharacteristically brisk opening Powerplay during the first ODI, Pakistan quickly reverted to type today, their approach circumspect and their progress sedate. They continued their somewhat retrograde approach in the middle overs, the run rate hovering around 4.50 and, although their failure to accelerate could partly be attributed to the bowlers, it wasn’t as if Babar and Mohammad Hafeez broke their backs trying either. Hafeez, who found himself in the slightly unfortunate position of gaining more detractors than supporters after an 88-ball 92 during the first game, can certainly expect more criticism his way today after being stumped down the leg-side for a laboured 32 off 50 deliveries.
Pakistan’s innings never seemed to move out of the third gear it had begun in, and just when an almost run-a-ball partnership between Babar and Sarfraz looked like getting them ready for the final push, the captain’s leading edge found mid-on. It was after that that Imad and Babar combined, and even they took a while before the innings took off, just as it felt the collective patience of Pakistan’s fans worldwide was beginning to creak. The momentum from those late overs continued into the second innings, and Sarfraz certainly wouldn’t mind it continuing for two more come the decisive game on Tuesday.
Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000