It sometimes felt as if the sole purpose for playing this Test match was to provide Younis Khan a platform to score the 23 runs he has needed to become the first Pakistan cricketer to score 10,000 runs. If that was indeed the case, then the purpose had been served. Younis swept – of course he swept – to the fine-leg boundary to reach the milestone, and the wait was over.
It happened two balls after the tea interval. Younis had, of course, left us all hanging at the break with his career runs tally reading 9999, and for perhaps 15 minutes, it was a figure almost as famous in cricket as 99.94. But then after two balls (although really after 70 years), it happened. The newest addition to the 10,000-run club took off his helmet and set off for the tiny cluster of Pakistan fans huddled together. He raised his bat, pointed at the Pakistan crest on his shirt and set to work on what he knew best: batting in Test match cricket.
There was almost a palpable sense that a burden had been lifted, and Pakistan’s scoring rate picked up sharply after that. The West Indies pacemen had tired themselves out, and the spin bowlers – Devendra Bishoo excepted – were child’s play for the pair to handle. Having come through a cagey second session, Younis and Babar Azam tucked into Roston Chase and Kraigg Brathwaite, during a stand of 131 for the third wicket, a six into the second tier by Younis the shot of the day.
Jason Holder was forced to return to the quicks once again, and called upon Shannon Gabriel to do something about a match that was slipping away from his side. The move paid off almost immediately. In just Gabriel’s second over back, Younis, who had perhaps relaxed a bit too much, failed to keep an attempted cover drive along the ground, spooning it straight to Brathwaite at short extra cover. It wasn’t before Younis had scored a valuable 58, though, putting his side in control of an innings that had been quivering at 54 for 2 when he came in.
Gabriel wasn’t done, however, accounting for Babar in his next over, the young batsman playing on to his stumps after making a composed 72 off 201 deliveries as a seesawing Test began to even up again. The new batsmen, Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq, simply shut up shop thereafter as the quicks continued to push for another wicket in fading light. But the pair, nothing if not defensively resolute, held on till the close of play, Misbah surviving a review off what turned out to be the last ball of the day, setting the game up for an intriguing last couple of days.
The day had started with Mohammad Amir wrapping up the home side’s innings, which had stretched on interminably owing to a combination of uncooperative weather and a wagging tail. They came out nine wickets down, and Amir needed just nine deliveries to account for Gabriel. It was almost a replica of the ball that did for Alzarri Joseph yesterday, angling in to Gabriel from around the wicket to crash into the middle stump and giving Amir his career-best bowling figures of 6 for 44.
Pakistan were dealt an early blow when Azhar Ali, indisputably their best batsmen of late, fell to a short wide delivery from Joseph that he will rue flashing at. It caught the edge and Shane Dowrich took a smart catch behind the wicket, but from Pakistan’s point of view it will have felt like a wicket gifted. Ahmed Shahzad struck some confident boundaries on his return to the Test side but fell soon after, as a Holder delivery nipped in late to strike him on the back leg, bringing Younis and Babar together.
The pair hung around gamely in the face of a disciplined West Indian attack, ensuring they went in to tea having suffered no more setbacks. It took Younis 48 minutes and ten overs across two sessions to so much as get off the mark as the pace bowlers employed a consistent off-stump line and good length in otherwise unhelpful bowling conditions. Babar and Younis were equal to it, not about to throw their wickets away playing false shots, and consequently the session took on the feel of a stalemate.
However, with Gabriel’s late intervention taking the advantage away from Pakistan, the crowning glory is still very much up for grabs.