Pakistan completed a 3-0 whitewash of West Indies with a comfortable eight-wicket win in Abu Dhabi that exposed the World T20 champions’ weaknesses in conditions not conducive to big hitting.
Sent in to bat, West Indies stuttered to 103 for 5 in their 20 overs, failing to get into gear after losing three top-order wickets to Imad Wasim’s non-turning left-arm spin.
Chasing less than six runs an over, Pakistan were never under pressure, especially after Jerome Taylor sprayed the new ball around in his first two overs, conceding four leg-side fours, a leg-side wide, and a set of leg-byes down to the fine leg boundary. Kesrick Williams, the debutant fast bowler, dismissed both openers in the sixth over of the innings, but Pakistan easily shrugged that setback aside as Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik steered them home with an unbroken partnership of 68 for the third wicket. Malik ended the match off the first ball of the 16th over, shoveling Carlos Brathwaite for a six over long-on.
When they won the World T20 earlier this year, West Indies only really struggled in two games, a narrow win against South Africa and a defeat to Afghanistan. Both games came in Nagpur, the venue with the largest outfield and most spin-friendly pitch of the tournament. Abu Dhabi’s outfield is even larger, and while its pitch didn’t offer much turn, it didn’t give the batsmen much pace to work with, and barely any bounce. This meant West Indies would need to look outside their usual T20 template to find a trustworthy run-scoring method.
They didn’t. By the start of the ninth over, three of their batsmen had been bowled by Imad’s stock in-ducker, and only one of them, Chadwick Walton, could claim mitigating circumstances. Having just come to the crease, he was undone by a back-of-a-length ball that crept through him at shin height.
The previous ball, knowing fully well the dangers of going across the line to an unfailingly stump-to-stump bowler on a pitch of low bounce, Johnson Charles had attempted a slog-sweep and missed. Then, Dwayne Bravo, having added 14 with Marlon Samuels in 21 balls, was bowled through the gate going for an open-faced sliced drive.
In typical T20 conditions, it is almost essential for batting teams to take such risks. In the specific circumstances of Tuesday’s game, West Indies needed a different approach. Perhaps they needed to peek into the Virat Kohli/MS Dhoni playbook, perhaps, and bunt the ball towards deep fielders and push for twos.
West Indies didn’t try that approach: they only ran nine twos in their 20 overs. Not coincidentally, Marlon Samuels, never the fleetest or most enthusiastic runner between the wickets, was at the crease for all but 2.3 overs of the innings. From the non-striker’s end, he also played a part in Andre Fletcher getting run out in the fifth over.
In the end, Samuels finished unbeaten on 42 off 59 balls, but he was by no means alone in struggling to up the tempo. Conditions are certainly not conducive to big hitting when Kieron Pollard ends up not out on 16 off 17 balls without hitting a boundary or a six.
A lot of this was down to Pakistan’s bowling. The spinners hit an awkward, short-of-good-length area and attacked the stumps, the ideal strategy for a pitch with low bounce, denying the batsman the opportunity to get on the front foot while also imperiling the horizontal-bat shots. The three left-arm seamers, including the debutant Rumman Raees, hit the same sort of length while constantly taking pace off the ball.
The few boundaries that came were off rare deliveries that offered a bit of swinging room: Samuels played a crisp front-foot cut off Imad, and pulled a too-short slower ball from Sohail Tanvir; Nicholas Pooran slog-swept Mohammad Nawaz into the grass banks, a shot that may have cleared the stadium roof in Sharjah.
Two balls later, West Indies were served another reminder of the difficulty of hitting big shots on this ground, as Pooran connected meatily with another big swing only to pick out deep midwicket.