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May 16, 1999

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Pak powers to win over Windies

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Inzamam-ul-Haq skies Mervyn Dillon
Pic: Laurence Griffiths/Allsport
To the sentimentalist -- and I must confess that when it comes to cricket, I am unabashedly one -- there are few finer sights than Ambrose and Walsh bowling in tandem.

You watch them, legends both, with a combined age of 71 as Michael Holding pointed out in his column, coming up with performances that many a younger man would envy and you realise that you are watching probably the last of a vanishing breed of legendary West Indies quicks.

This morning, after Akram won the toss and surprisingly decided to bat first, given that it was 13 degrees in the sun out on the ground at Bristol and cloudy to boot. Ambrose and Walsh said thanks much, and came up with a superb spell that, with some support from Dillon at first change, had Pakistan gasping at 42/4 by the 19th over.

Wasim Akram slams the Windies
Pic: Julian Herbert/Allsport
Anwar, normally so fluid, had no clue what Ambrose and Walsh were doing with the ball and finally succumbed to his own nerves, flicked Walsh high for Lara to hold well at mid on; Afridi found that pinch-hitting on English tracks in May was a far cry from belting them around on the sub-continent and edged a lovely late awayswinger to Jacobs; Abdul Razzaq -- another pinch-hitter -- was static at the crease and finally lost his stumps to a Dillon yorker and Inzamam played a misguided pull at a lifter from Dillon to put the keeper back in business.

Ijaz Ahmed then brought his enormous experience into play. Beaten repeatedly -- he has this habit of nodding after every good delivery, and today he was nodding often enough to put himself in danger of dislocating his neck -- he hung in there, gritted his way through the rough, saw off Walsh, Ambrose and Dillon, and guided Yusuf Youhanna through his own problems to put together a fine partnership for the fifth wicket. It was slow going, 102/5 in 30 overs when Ijaz finally fell LBW to Dillon, but it helped Pak out of jail and set the platform for a scintillating cameo from Wasim Akram.

Akram's strength is the leg side and today, he rode that strength, blasting fours and sixes seemingly at will in an innings that completely changed the tempo of the game, and wrested the initiative away from the West Indies. With Azhar Mahmood in support and Moin coming in late to push the scoring along with some electric running between wickets, Pakistan managed to put 229 on the board in its 50 overs -- a total big enough for a superbly balanced bowling attack to defend.

A dejected Lara returns to the pavilion
Pic: Julian Herbert/Allsport
Walsh, Ambrose and Dillon were outstanding with the ball, but the West Indies had put itself on the back foot at the team selection stage itself, when the management opted to go in with just three regular bowlers. I've seen teams go in with four and take a chance using irregulars to bowl 10 -- but expecting 20 overs to be bowled by non-regular bowlers made little sense.

And in the final analysis, that is where the West Indies lost out. Simmons, Arthurton, Adams and Powell went for 114 off 20, as against 91 off thirty by the frontline bowlers. Simmons in fact bowled a good spell, going for just 41 in his full ten, but the other three went for 83 in ten. Look at it this way, had they played a regular bowler, he would -- even on a bad day -- have gone for 50 max. West Indies lost by 27 runs -- so that alone indicates how serious that error of not bowling a fourth regular was.

Lara impressed with his captaincy. Time and again he gambled, bringing on his main bowlers in the middle though he was running out of overs for them, and each time, he managed to peg Pakistan back and ensure that they didn't really get away from the fielding side.

When the West Indies batted, Akthar produced the electricity he alone seems to generate with sheer pace, beating Campbell with a blinder that crashed into middle stump, but Ridley Jacobs and, more importantly, Jimmy Adams handled his extreme pace with reasonable assurance. Akram at the other end was unplayable -- but as happens with him from time to time, brilliant bowling went unrewarded.

The two batsmen saw off both the Pakistan quicks, and when they got the score along to 72 by the 17th over with some sensible batting, West Indies appeared to be coasting. There were, of course, some moments of pure comedy -- like the time Jacobs tried to get out of the way of an Akthar express, saw the ball rocketing onto his bat handle and soaring behind the keeper, falling about an inch short of the boundary behind his back. But for the most part, they kept their heads down and kept their nerve, and were just beginning to look like taking the game completely away when Adams had an uncharacteristic rush of blood and ended up edging to slip.

Brian Lara reminded you of Richards in the 1983 final. Two sparkling fours off the first two balls he faced had the crowd roaring. Spectacular stuff, but a bit too arrogant perhaps? Perhaps -- and as with Richards in that famous innings, Lara perished -- a victim to his own arrogance as, in Abdur Razzaq's first over, he aimed a huge swat over long on only to top edge to point.

When Lara went, the West Indies were 146 shy of the target with 31 overs to get there -- a seemingly easy task. But first Jacobs, then Powell, then Simmons perished playing extravagant shots were the need was for them to guide the ball around and with Arthurton injured while fielding (he finally emerged with a runner, but never looked likely to do better than the ones who had gone before), the West Indies had, in typical style, fashioned a glorious defeat out of the jaws of what looked an easy win. What underlined the sheer thoughtlessness of the batting was the display of Chanderpaul -- out of the game for a while with injury, he batted today like he had never been away, timing the ball to perfection and playing a series of flowing drives on either side of the wicket before being the last man out.

For Pakistan, Abdur Razzaq was easily the bowling star. Not as fast as Akthar or as obviously brilliant as Akram, Razzaq bowled within himself, kept a very full length, moved the ball away late and gave every batsman a testing time. the srength of this Pakistan outfit lies in its variety with the ball, and that characteristic was on show today: the incredible movement of Akram, both ways off the seam; the sheer pace of Akthar; the swing and seam of Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood and the off spin of Saqlain combined into an attack that will test every side in this competition -- and mind, Afridi didn't even need to bowl.

Pakistan also fielded very tightly and continued to display the team spirit that characterised their recent Indian tour. For their part, the West Indies looked sharp in the field -- it is their batting, coupled with thoughtless team selection, that was really to blame for this defeat.

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