The good thing for Pakistan is that they can’t lose the One-Day International series in the West Indies now (leading 2-1 with the final match tomorrow). The bad thing for them is that if it hadn’t been for an over of madness in the third ODI, the tourists would’ve won the series by now.
Batting woes were neatly put aside in the penultimate match as Misbah-ul-Haq’s men chased down a revised target of 189 in 30 overs. Death bowling remains a concern, and so does a rejuvenated West Indies batting lineup that piled up the series’ highest total in the fourth ODI courtesy Marlon Samuels’ first ODI century in 12 months.
Pakistan's chance to bury the past
Pakistan will be keen to take the trophy in order to bury their horrific Champions Trophy campaign and a dismal tour of South Africa before that. Misbah’s refusal to tinker with a winning combination will mean another match for the erratic Wahab Riaz—is he really the best option at No. 8? — and the promising left-hander Haris Sohail. Umar Akmal hasn’t done much wrong behind the stumps — despite Kamran Akmal’s warnings to his younger brother—or with bat in hand after his comeback so Mohammad Rizwan, the designated wicket-keeper in the squad, will continue to warm the benches.
Failure at the top has been a worry for both sides. Ahmed Shehzad and Nasir Jamshed showed glimpses of their natural, attacking style in the previous match but disappeared all too quickly while Chris Gayle was pushed down the order in search of runs away from the tricky bounce of Mohammad Irfan. Samuels’ innings did offer reprieve for the hosts—as did Mohammad Hafeez’s return to form with the bat—but whether that can be repeated is a question that only time can answer.
Misbah looking for support
Misbah, who sits second on the scorers’ chart for the series will hope the responsibility of not only steadying the ship but also taking the team to a respectable total or past the finish line can be someone else’s responsibility. His run in 2013 has been phenomenal, but despite his efforts, Pakistan’s results have been downright dismal.
Shahid Afridi, too, shone on his comeback—and sits top of the wicket-takers’ list for the series—but repeated performance with the bat and ball is what Pakistan needs from him. His absence from the Champions Trophy was widely criticised—and evenly applauded—but with a back not 16 year old anymore and deteriorating concentration levels, Afridi knows the time to perform is now.
Admit It! Whenever Shahid Afridi Comes To Crease Either To Ball Or To Bat The Crowd Simply Loves It n Gets Crazy! ♥ @SAfridiOfficial— Sehrish Alam (@sehrishalam16) July 23, 2013
For West Indies, Jason Holder has been causing all sorts of problems—first with the ball and then in the last-over heroics with the bat. Sunil Narine has been well respected by the Pakistani batsmen, as has been Kemar Roach, but the absence of another threatening bowler does take the game away from the hosts in the middle overs. Darren Sammy and Samuels perform periodically but the West Indies need someone like Saeed Ajmal and Hafeez for the middle overs to make an impression.
Who will be the man of the match in the final ODI?
Gayle to finally fire?
Predicting the result will be suicidal—both sides are unpredictable, mercurial and capable of reaching soaring heights or unimaginable depths in a matter of minutes. West Indies should have had the upper hand keeping in mind that they are playing at home, but Pakistan have been stronger with the ball and in the field.
Stats favour the West Indies, momentum points towards Pakistan. Both sides failed to reach the semi-finals of the Champions Trophy—Pakistan went home with zero points.
The tourists have managed to keep Gayle quiet for now, but it takes one thunderous effort from the former captain to seal a result—and tomorrow may be just that.