West Indies clueless against spin

West Indies 209 for 9 (Simmons 49, Ajmal 4-63) against Pakistan
It’s not often Pakistan rely so heavily on spin and reap the benefits though not so often will they come across a batting side so ill-equipped to face it on so helpful a track. In truth, West Indies did fight as best they could but by the end of a long, attritional day on an uneven surface, at 209 for 9, it wasn’t looking like the fight would be enough.

Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman and Mohammad Hafeez did the bulk of the work and damage, 68 of the day’s overs bringing them eight wickets. Throughout they were at it, tightening a noose around West Indies from which they never broke free.

The key spell that wrenched open the day came from Ajmal and Rehman almost two-thirds into the day. It had been a tight, ungiving contest till then, hosts battling after winning the toss and tourists committed.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan had put on 46 runs to steady a brief wobble and had done so with considerable class. The over before tea, however, as so often before, Sarwan got careless, a loose cut well-caught by debutant wicketkeeper Mohammad Salman.

Ajmal was disappointing in the morning but as he switched round the wicket after lunch, he strung together some magic. He settled in first against Chanderpaul and Sarwan, bowling a few maidens but once Sarwan went and exposed the lower middle-order, he really stuck in.

He’s never been shy with his doosras, though if bowled as well as he does there is no reason to be. Liberally he hurled them at batsmen as comfortable reading them as most of us are with Braille. He mixed them up so well that Brendan Nash and Carlton Baugh were looking for the ones that never came, and both were caught plumb in front. The pick was the doosra that sucked in Chanderpaul, like a leg-break Shane Warne might have delivered from round the wicket.

There was wholeness about his bowling with plenty of well-pitched, turning offbreaks, good changes of angle as well as use of uneven bounce. The West Indies crash came from 127 for 2, Ajmal bowling unchanged from midway through the day.

Rehman , as he does so well, played a willing second fiddle. There was nothing fancy about his contribution, just straightforward containment at one end. In the morning he helped Hafeez keep a leash on things, and through the afternoon supported Ajmal with key breakthroughs.

In hindsight, Hafeez’s morning spell set the day, the first Pakistani spinner to open the bowling in the very first innings of a Test. Post-spot-fixing, he has been a key player and as they had done in the World Cup quarter-final in Dhaka, the West Indies top order froze, allowing him to attack without fear. No batsman dreads Hafeez more than Devon Smith and soon enough he fell, the fifth time in seven internationals. His first spell – 10-5-14-1 – was remarkably similar to the quarter-final 10-3-16-2, statistically and spiritually.

That West Indies remained in it till tea was down to two partnerships, first between Darren Bravo and Lendl Simmons. Early in the day, the pair had begun with caution, treating each ball as gingerly as a hand grenade. In particular, Simmons in whites appeared a different species to Simmons in colours, with none of the gusto or fluidity of his ODI displays. But once the stylish Bravo got things moving, Simmons moved up a gear driving and cutting Ajmal before lunch. Slowly, surely, by then the pair had put on fifty.

But an energetic burst from Wahab Riaz after lunch ended it, dismissing Bravo and forcing Simmons to retire hurt. That brought together Sarwan and Chanderpaul, batting giants among pygmies. Rebuilding is well and good, but you can’t reproduce this kind of nous and experience and immediately they looked a class above.

They milked singles when needed, but more importantly, didn’t get restless when unable to. Boundaries came when they came, few of them ugly. Sarwan cut one, Chanderpaul pinged a fantastic drive off Umar Gul as well as gliding Riaz in his unique way through point. But once Sarwan went, the unraveling began; nine men in double figures but none higher than 49 tells a tale.

It was deserved reward for Pakistan who held a threat at one end through the day and had it not been for plenty of missed chances, the total could have been lower. With Devendra Bishoo to negotiate on this pitch, who knows what the chances Salman, Azhar Ali and Misbah-ul-Haq fluffed may cost.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo

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