In the second innings, the West Indian batsmen tried their level best to take a commanding lead against Pakistan. Yasir Shah was bowling magnificently and made the ball to talk. Yasir’s legspin was proving handy for the hosts as they kept on losing wickets at regular intervals, but Shai Hopes stood firm and decided to handle Yasir with maturity. Still, a lead of 188 was not going to be enough to stop Pakistan from a victory.
But the Kensington Oval didn’t frustrate Jason Holder and the West Indies cricket fans.
The Kensington Oval is one of the luckiest grounds for the West Indies. Time and again, they have managed to pull themselves out of the fire and script some dramatic wins. As they say, the last day at Barbados always belongs to West Indies. For many, such a belief might seem to be a myth, but there were instances when this belief of the fans can’t be underestimated.
In the summer of 1992, South Africa visited West Indies to play Test and one-day international series. It would be South Africa’s first ever Test after 22 years. They lost the ODI series badly. The one-off Test match commenced at Barbados and to the astonishment of West Indies and their followers, South Africa dominated throughout the four days.
On the final day, South Africa needed just 79 runs to register a memorable win. Kepler Wessels and Peter Kirsten were well set to steer South Africa to the coast of victory.
In one of his articles, Telford Vice wrote about an ancient denizen, who grabbed at every white man who was not Tony Cozier and said, ’Tell your boys that the last day at Kensington Oval always belongs to us’.
As soon as Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh decided to have a go, South Africa collapsed in a dramatic fashion. It was one of those days when Ambrose and Walsh’s line and length never erred – each perfect delivery was followed by another one as eight South African wickets crashed for just 22 runs. West Indies escaped defeat on a dramatic day at Barbados.
Five years later, India needed 120 runs to beat West Indies on the same ground. It was supposed to be a cakewalk for Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Mohammad Azharuddin. But when Ian Bishop, Franklyn Rose and Curtly Ambrose decided to tune into the Calypso beat, the Indian batting line-up lost their way and was bundled out for just 81 – a defeat which still gives the fans a lot of heartaches.
Twenty years later, Misbah-ul-Haq’s Pakistan needed 188 runs to seal the series 2-0 and register a series win in West Indies for the first time in their history. Neither Mushtaq Mohammad nor Imran Khan could achieve such a feat and Misbah was a step away from glory.
Chasing such a total should not have been a tough task for Pakistan and at present, the West Indies bowling attack doesn’t boast with the great fast bowlers of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph and Jason Holder are good pace bowlers but are not yet deceptive enough while defending small totals. Yes, Devendra Bishoo was supposed to pose a threat on the last day wicket and Yasir Shah’s expertise in both innings gave the fans a glimmer of hope.
But the hero of the day was not to be Bishoo, but a pace bowler named Shannon Gabriel transformed into a predator to crush Pakistan. While the likes of Ambrose and Walsh thrashed opponents on fast and bouncy tracks of Kensington Oval, Gabriel scripted Pakistan’s agony on a slow and low track.
Gabriel’s first ball of the final day pitched on a good length and tailed in. Azhar Ali defended it by going back but not with enough confidence. That ball must have taken many West Indies cricket followers of the 80s and 90s back to the old days when a Malcolm Marshall or Curtly Ambrose would start the fourth innings at Barbados in an I-mean-business-today mood.
Azhar Ali departed and all of a sudden, Pakistan found themselves reeling at 36 for 7. Gabriel jolted the Pakistan top and middle order with some accurate bowling and sharp pace. Gabriel was an absolute predator and he hunted in packs along with Joseph and Holder. Pakistan were all out for 81, the same score, on which their neighbours were once bundled out at the same ground in 1997.
I tend to disagree with the view that the track on the final day was tough to bat. It was still good enough to cash in and chase 188 as because there weren’t any demons underneath the Kensington wicket. The demons did exist but in the heads of the Pakistani batsmen.
It was an inspiring victory for West Indies.
Certainly, the last day at Barbados always belongs to the West Indies.