Pakistan ended the fourth day well in control of the first Test, thanks to an unbeaten 99 from Misbah-ul-Haq and four wickets from Yasir Shah, leaving West Indies at 93 for 4 and still 28 runs short of making Pakistan bat again.
After the drama of Misbah becoming the first Pakistan batsman to be stranded on 99 – Mohammad Abbas failing in an attempt to review a marginal lbw decision – West Indies began their reply solidly after tea. But just as the session was drifting off, Misbah turned to Yasir. The ball had spun considerably earlier in the day for his West Indies counterpart Devendra Bishoo, and with the cracks on the pitch beginning to open up, it was a natural decision.
What wasn’t quite as natural was the speed with which the bowling change paid off. Yasir pitched the first ball of his spell on an off-stump line. The length was perfect for a legspinner, and Kraigg Brathwaite appeared to have no choice but to get on the back foot and watch for the turn. The ball skidded on, however, at flipper-like pace, and the attempt to cut was doomed. Two balls later, Yasir found the debutant Shimron Hetmyer’s glove, who was fortunate to see it drop short of slip. Suddenly, new life was breathed into Pakistan’s efforts.
Wahab Riaz was also introduced soon after, but he served as a pressure release valve for the West Indies batsmen, if anything. All the action was happening at the other end, and as the shadows lengthened, every single Yasir delivery became a must-watch event. When Hetmyer smashed Yasir impressively, dismissively down the ground for six, you almost expected Yasir to come back with a vengeance. The legspinner didn’t disappoint, getting Shane Warne-esque turn the very next ball as Hetmyer went back and attempted to keep it out, only to end up dragging it on to his stumps.
Yasir wasn’t nearly done yet, as four overs later he trapped Shai Hope plumb in front with a quicker delivery that skidded on to his front pad. There was still time for one final blow to the solar plexus of the West Indies line-up, as opener Kieran Powell, who had watched all the carnage unfold from the other end, edged to first slip on 49. Younis Khan was standing there to complete the dismissal, as West Indies headed for stumps dazed, dispirited, and, in all likelihood, defeated.
West Indies’ second innings had started off uneventfully, as the openers came out looking like they had made survival their priority, at least for the session. Mohammad Amir generated a bit of swing while Abbas was his usual disciplined self, but Powell and Brathwaite were intent on not allowing Pakistan to make early inroads this time, and looked to see off the new ball with as little fuss as possible. The only chance for the faster bowlers came in Abbas’s first over, as Powell chipped straight back to the bowler’s left, who couldn’t hang on despite getting a good hand to the ball.
Pakistan had earlier posted 407, thanks to a quickfire half-century from Sarfraz Ahmed to go with Misbah’s efforts. Even though West Indies struck back in the afternoon session with regular wickets, a 10th-wicket partnership of 34 between Misbah and Abbas dashed their hopes of keeping Pakistan’s lead to under 100, and therefore keeping alive the possibility – however remote – of the hosts charting a course to victory.
The Pakistan batsmen had looked wobbly in the opening session, but poor fielding by West Indies – a catch and a stumping were missed – ensured they were able to establish a position of dominance and stretch their lead.
Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph extracted sharp bounce off the surface, clearly discomfiting both Asad Shafiq and Misbah, neither of whom looked confident in dealing with the shorter length. Shafiq’s eventual dismissal brought Sarfraz to the crease, and along with him came a sense of urgency to an innings that had stalled somewhat.
He was particularly severe on Bishoo, striking a four and six off his first two overs, and picking off the loose deliveries to ensure the spinner could never get into his rhythm and start building pressure on the batsmen as Pakistan edged closer to West Indies’ total. His strike rate of 138 against the legspinner was indicative of his intentions, and he scored a half-century, as well as bringing up 2000 Tests runs, in a productive session.
Misbah, meanwhile, ticked along at the other end, looking curiously reticent to even attempt scoring shots at a juncture of the game when his side could be expected to drive home their advantage. He gradually found fluency as the innings went on and looked to set for an 11th Test hundred when Abbas, who had hung around for more than ten overs to keep his captain company, was struck on the pads by Roston Chase; Richard Illingworth’s lbw decision upheld by the ball-tracker, despite the suggestion of a possible outside edge.
A win to break six successive losses in a row would likely take some of the edge off Misbah’s disappointment and, to that end, Yasir appears to have his captain, and indeed his country, covered.