Series squared!

- Career best from Azam (125) and Ali (5-38) inspire Pakistan to level series

Pakistan yesterday produced a clinical all-round performance to trounce the West Indies by 74 runs to level the Brighto Paints Q Mobile Cup One-Day limited overs series at the Guyana National Stadium Providence on the back of a career–best knock from 22-year-old Babar Azam who stroked a majestic 125 while receiving support from the Pakistani bowlers to set up a series decider tomorrow.

An unchanged West Indies side, who displayed a spirited performance to win the first ODI, failed to close out the series after an all too familiar top order batting collapse.

Skipper Jason Holder once again won the toss and, along with spearhead, Shannon Gabriel, utilized the new ball to good effect, early on. It was Gabriel though who first struck by removing Ahmed Shehzad in the fifth over to leave Pakistan on 16 for one.

Victory kiss? Medium-Pacer Hasan Ali kisses the pitch after dismissing Jason Holder while also achieving his career best bowing figures of 5 for 38 to inspire Pakistan to draw level. (Orlando Charles photo)

Pakistan could have slipped to further trouble in the following over when Chadwick Walton floored a simple chance at cover failing to remove Kamran Akmal.

The tourist then got going when Azam clipped Holder of his pads for four in the very over to rub salt in Holder’s wounds to push the score to 21 for 1.

Pakistan, however, lost Akmal soon after when Alzarri Joseph struck at the end of his first over to leave the score 42 for 2 after nine overs.

Mohammad Hafeez was now at the crease, sooner than he would have imagined and, along with Babar carried Pakistan to 46 for two at the end of the first power play. Pakistan then brought up their 50 in the 11th over when Babar worked Joseph off his hips for one to bring up Pakistan’s first major landmark.

Azam began to look like the man who carved out three consecutive centuries against the Windies last year in the United Arab Emirates when he pushed Joseph down the ground for four to carry Pakistan to 82 for 2 at the end of the 19th over.

The two continued to rebuild the innings by adding 58 runs, at that point, after coming together with the score on 42 – 2 to push Pakistan to pass the 100 run mark in the 22nd over courtesy of a Hafeez maximum off the bowling of Devenda Bishoo.

The pair seemed comfortable at the halfway point, taking the visitors to 112-2 with Babar four away from his half-century while the more experienced Hafeez was on 32 with the game hanging nicely in the balance.

Pakistan, though, lost Hafeez off the first ball of the 26th over bowled by Ashley Nurse when he skipped down the track and missed a delivery directed down the leg side and was comfortable stumped by wicketkeeper Shai Hope for 32. His knock lasted 50 deliveries and included two fours and a solitary maximum. His demise also ended a 71 run partnership between Azam and himself.

Azam brought up his 50 soon after in the 27th over to register his seventh fifty at this level. Bishoo then struck to remove Malik in the 29th over to leave the tourists in some trouble at 124 for 4.

Pakistan, though, pushed on with 10 overs to go, sitting well on 188 – 5  with Azam well set on 76 and Imad Wasim (3) at the crease after losing Skipper Sarfraz Ahmed (26) a few over prior.

They eventually ended on 282 – 5 with Azam unbeaten on 125 from 132 deliveries, posting his fifth century at this level and his fourth against the Caribbean side with the other century coming against Australia, earlier in the year. His knock included seven fours and two sixes.

Wasim, on the other hand, contributed 43 from 35 balls which included two fours and the same number of sixes which complemented Azam well as the two shared in 99-run, unbroken seventh wicket stand.  Gabriel 2 for 50 from 10 overs was the main wicket taker for the home side.

Windies, hunting a rare series win, found themselves in early trouble with the score on 51 – 4 in the 11th over with the bulk of the top order back in the hut as the Pakistan fast bowlers were relentless with the new ball. Hasan Ali, in particular, who had two of the four early wickets to fall, found a nice nagging length and pegged away at the annoyance of the West Indian batsmen.

It was now a daunting task for the home side with Jason Mohammad and Jonathan Carter at the crease staring up Mount Roraima with another 229 to get. Mohammad (1), however, fell victim to Hafeez as Windies slipped into further trouble at 56 – 5 in the 14th over. They were staring down the barrel when Hafeez got his second wicket by trapping Carter (12) plumb in front as Windies dug themselves into a hole they never seemed like getting out from.

Nurse (44) and Holder (68) showed fight at the bottom but the damage was already done by Ali (5-38) and Hafeez (2-23) who dislodged the Windies for 208 to set up a series decider tomorrow.

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