Propelled by a barrage of short-pitched bowling, West Indies soared to a seven-wicket win over Pakistan in their first match of the World Cup at Trent Bridge in Nottingham today.
It was a swift demolition as Pakistan were fired out for 105 in 21.4 overs – their second lowest World Cup total – after they were sent in. Their lowest is 74 against England in the 1992 World Cup, which Pakistan won.
In fact, it was Pakistan’s biggest defeat in World Cup history with as many as 218 balls remaining.
Oshane Thomas grabbed four for 27 after coming on as the last of five bowlers, skipper Jason Holder took three for 42 and Andre Russell, two for four.
And West Indies raced to their target in 13.4 overs, scoring 108 for three with veteran opener Chris Gayle slamming 50 off 34 balls including six fours and three sixes.
Gayle has now struck the most sixes (40) in the World Cup after going into the match tied on 37 with former South African batsman AB de Villiers. In the 2015 World Cup, Gayle hit 26 sixes.
The way in which the Pakistan batsmen were bounced out brought back memories of fearsome West Indies fast bowling in the late 1970s, the 80s and early 90s.
According to the statistics, seven of the Pakistan wickets fell to short or short-of-a-good length deliveries. They scored 55 off 68 such balls. Of the 130 balls bowled by West Indies, 68 were short or short-of-a-good length, which is 52% of the total balls delivered.
The make-up of the West Indies pace attack was interesting in that Shannon Gabriel was unfit and no room could be found for the experienced Kemar Roach.
Opening batsman Evin Lewis was also ruled unfit, paving the way for Nicholas Pooran to play.
West Indies went into the match with five seamers – left-armer Sheldon Cottrell, Holder, Russell, Carlos Brathwaite and rookie Thomas, along with one specialist slow bowler – off-spinner Ashley Nurse.
Though the West Indies bowlers must be given credit for their aggression, the manner in which some of the Pakistan batsmen played the short ball left a lot to be desired.
Cottrell first struck in the third over when Imam-ul-Haq gloved the last delivery down the leg-side to wicket-keeper Shai Hope after scoring two from 11 deliveries.
With Fakhar Zaman taking the attack to Holder, whose first two overs cost 20 runs, Russell replaced Holder and struck in his fifth ball, which bowled Fakhar for 22. It was pitched short, the batsman essayed a pull and the ball hit the grille of the helmet before rolling on to the stumps.
From thereon, the short ball proved to be vital as the batsmen showed some discomfort.
Harris Sohail (eight), pushing at another lifting delivery from Russell, edged to Hope to leave the score 45 for three in the 10th over.
Babar Azam was dropped on 12 at point by Shimron Hetmyer as he slashed at a short ball from Brathwaite but after scoring 22, he was out to a brilliant catch by Hope, leaping to his right, off an outswinger from Thomas, to make it 62 for four in the 14th over.
Holder returned for a second spell and soon tightened West Indies’ grip.
He had skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed (eight) caught down the leg-side by Hope, who initiated a review after the first appeal was turned down by umpire Chris Gaffaney.
And off the last ball of the over, Imad Wasim (one), trying to pull another short ball, got a top edge and was caught at slip by Gayle moving to his right.
At 77 for six after 17 overs, there was no respite.
In the next over from Thomas, Shadab Khan was leg before wicket without scoring.
Holder then induced Hasan Ali (one) to pull a back of the length delivery into the hands of mid-off in Cottrell.
Veteran Mohammed Hafeez, trying to evade a bouncer from Thomas, was well caught at fine leg by Cottrell, diving forward, for 16.
Thomas finished off the innings by bowling Wahab Riaz for 18 off 11 balls.
West Indies started briskly with Gayle and Hope putting on 36 in 4.3 overs for the first wicket before Hope was caught at mid-off off left-arm pacer Mohammad Amir for 11.
Ten runs later in the seventh over, an out-of-form Darren Bravo, fending at a short ball from Amir, was caught at second slip without scoring.
And Amir also accounted for Gayle, who got a top-edge as he swung at a length ball and was caught at point.
Pooran batted positively to score 34 not out off only 19 balls with four fours and two sixes, while Hetmyer was not out on seven.
Holder said after the match that West Indies intended to play “fearless cricket”. It is a very positive sign.
“I think our style was just to be aggressive. We just want to be aggressive with whoever we’re playing against. It’s just something that we need to do in order to pick up wickets,” he said.
“I think with the modern-day game, if you are not picking up wickets throughout the innings you’re going to struggle to contain teams. So, we just want to be aggressive even if we give up a few runs up front, trying to get wickets. One of the things we’ve spoken about in the recent past is just trying to have that mind-set to take wickets because if you’re not taking wickets you’re going to struggle.”
In relation to the short-pitched bowling, there were telling comments from West Indies fast bowling great Sir Curtly Ambrose and former England off-spinner Graeme Swann.
“Cricket is cricket and bouncers are part of cricket,” Sir Curtly said.
“I believe West Indies’ plan worked to perfection. They really hustled the Pakistan batsmen, who had no answer and they were really destroyed in the way they play.
“There is no better sight in cricket than a great fast bowler versus a great batsman. Sadly it’s not (often) there anymore.”
Swann described the West Indies approach as “brilliant, shocking and unexpected”.
“Everyone expects wide yorkers, slower balls, but it was vintage stuff,” Swann remarked.
“No-one expects this anymore – to run up and just get a barrage of short-pitched bowling. If it’s armpit height, it’s not called as the one short ball you’re allowed for the over. So if you’re skilful enough to bowl four, five of those an over, against a team like Pakistan who are notoriously hook happy, or flap happy as we call it, they’re going to take them on.
“West Indies just played an old-fashioned game, actually, that may just take this World Cup by storm because people simply aren’t used to it anymore.
“It was a very simple method of bumper warfare. It was very good to watch.”
Based on what transpired at Trent Bridge today, fans will be even more anxious to follow the fortunes of the West Indies for the rest of the World Cup, especially when they oppose the likes of title holders Australia, South Africa, England and India.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and International cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) Championship for over three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Email:Keithfholder@gmail.com