By Syed Khalid Mahmood
In the final count it didn’t really matter which West Indian team was taking on Pakistan in the first Group B match of the ICC Champions Trophy 2009 at the New Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on September 23.
I don’t think the outcome would have been much different even if Chris Gayle and company were there in place of the ‘depleted’ West Indian side that took the field. We have seen on numerous occasions in the recent past when the West Indies had squandered the opportunity of beating Pakistan after being in the driving seat for the better part of the match.
The individual brilliance of Gayles, Sarwans, Chanderpauls and Bravos could turn the tide against any other opposition with Pakistan being the sole exception. In fact even the great West Indian sides of the 1970s as well as the 1980s had encountered untold problems while coming to terms with Pakistan.
The inexperienced West Indian side showed more fighting grit than their predecessors and they might have even won the game on some other day with the same kind of performance, had the rub of the green gone their way.
The West Indians did a wonderful job by posting a total of 133 after the top-order had self-destructed while facing some accurate and hostile bowling on a track where the ball was bouncing much more than on any ground in the Caribbean these days.
The resilience and self-belief of the lower-order was exemplary. The manner in which the likes of Nikita Miller, Darren Sammy and Tino Best applied themselves should have been an object lesson to not only their colleagues in the dressing room but also to their more illustrious contemporaries watching the action from the comfort of their homes in the various islands of the Caribbean.
Pakistan were always expected to struggle even while chasing the target of 134 in 50 because their batsmen are more comfortable compiling runs on easy-paced tracks offering little or no assistance to the fast bowlers.
It was going to be a different ball game at the Wanderers and Gavin Tonge’s superb spell with the new ball showed once more how vulnerable was Pakistan’s batting in difficult conditions. It was anybody’s game when Pakistan’s top half was back in the hut with 76 runs on the board and as many as 58 still needed.
Pakistan are also known for producing new heroes in every other game. Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi, least expected to come off in the pressure-cooker situation, did the job by adding 58 for the sixth wicket. In the context of the game it looked quite extraordinary but they somehow put the runs on the board and there was no close finish as was being anticipated.
One thing that looked the most perplexing was the decision of the West Indian captain, Floyd Reifer, to bat after winning the toss. Not sure what exactly was in his mind or that of his team management but he allowed Pakistan a lifeline by not exposing their batsmen to the tougher conditions earlier in the day.
September 24, 2009