Azhar Ali's leadership has been under the scanner since Pakistan's 4-1 ODI series loss in England. He was reportedly asked to step down from captaincy to focus on his batting. However an unlikely lifeline, even if he didn't expect it, came his way as those in the corridors of power couldn't take a decision in the absence of PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan, who was away on leave to recuperate from a heart surgery.
The pressure, it seems, may have only mounted on Azhar after he nicked behind off the first ball, a 145kph Shannon Gabriel thunderbolt that snaked away off the seam after pitching on a fourth-stump line. Azhar, having been opened up, simply wafted at that good-length delivery, and watched it settle into the gloves of Denesh Ramdin before slowly trudging off.
The leg side for Sharjeel Khan is perhaps the cricketing equivalent of Sheldon Cooper's spot. He peppers that region with short-arm jabs, whips and muscular pulls. It seemed like West Indies were in with a plan to prevent Sharjeel from skipping into his 'spot'. The seamers hardly offered anything on middle-and-leg stumps, and instead tested Sharjeel outside off. He was initially perturbed by the early seam movement, but burst out of his comfort zone with a brace of scything drives over mid-off in the fifth over, bowled by Gabriel. Sharjeel then shovelled Carlos Brathwaite over wide long-on for six, his first leg-side boundary, at the end of the ninth over. Four balls later, Jason Holder was subjected to the same treatment.
The stunning catch
When Azam whipped Carlos Brathwaite over the top, the ball seemed destined to fly over the wide long-on boundary.... until Kieron Pollard used every inch of his 1.96 metre frame and plucked the ball out of thin air. Pollard took flight, and grabbed the ball with an outstretched right hand. But he was wary of the momentum taking him over the ad skirting, and thus tossed the ball back into the field of play. Pollard then reclaimed his balance and the catch. He deserved to take a bow for the sequence, which was just what he did, although in an angry manner.
Sulieman Benn beat Babar Azam's inside edge and struck the pad with an arm-ball. Umpire Ahsan Raza shot down the lbw appeal, but Holder insisted on a review. The impact was in line with the stumps, but Hawk-Eye showed that the ball would carry on to hit the top of the stumps, probably because of the extra bounce Benn was extracting with his tall frame. The new zone of impact had been extended either side of the stumps by 1.6 cms, up to the edge, but anything on height still pointed to umpire's call. S Ravi, the TV umpire, examined several replays before the on-field umpire's call was upheld. Henderson Springer, West Indies' interim coach, seemed to be having an intense chat about the review with the fourth umpire during the drinks interval, but the right call had been made.
Carlos Brathwaite bowled a cutter which Sarfraz Ahmed gently dabbed back in front of middle stump. Azam, seeing his partner take a few steps forward, responded and was nearly halfway down the pitch when Carlos Brathwaite ran in and collected the ball. While Sarfraz turned the single down, leaving Azam stranded, the bowler spun back and had all three stumps to aim at, but marginally missed.
Wahab's 1-2 in vain
Wahab Riaz unleashed a fiery bouncer angling away outside off, and had Benn awkwardly ducking his head out of the way, in the 36th over of the chase. In the process, Benn's spectacles popped out of the grille and fell on the floor. The next ball was a pinpoint yorker that shot through the defences of Benn and crashed onto the stumps. But Wahab's front foot had strayed, close-ups suggesting that his foot was on the line. Talk about ecstasy quickly giving way to agony.