Providence, Guyana: On a surface atoning for modern cricket's batting sins, a compelling Test again went this way and that, before nestling, at the end of the third day at Providence, loosely in the hands of the West Indies. Saeed Ajmal took centrestage to keep Pakistan in the contest initially, but Shivnarine Chanderpaul prised open that grip, before West Indian pacemen tore it off in an adrenaline-pumped afternoon. spell. At the end of another slow run-scoring but fast-moving day, Pakistan had recovered to 80 for 3, chasing 219.
Commentators have sniped at this pitch's uneven bounce and excessive turn but really, this is a miniscule righting of the massive wrongs of the modern-day batathons of Antigua, Lahore and countless others, where even if bowlers hurled hand grenades they might struggle to dislodge batsmen. Few batsmen here have looked set though admittedly these are two of the poorer batting sides going. But frankly it's made a battle out of a contest that could easily have slipped into yawning obscurity.
And no bowler will care much, not Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul, who reduced Pakistan to 2 for 3 in their chase, the wickets falling in eight balls across the second and third overs. The pair have bowled with greater purpose and energy than their Pakistan counterparts; at pace, both moved the ball in and away in a high-tempo burst that decapitated Pakistan. Rampaul sent back Taufeeq Umar and Azhar Ali before Roach dismissed Hafeez.
That Pakistan weren't swept away entirely was down to Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq, battling hard in a 78-stand - the highest of the Test incidentally - to close without further damage. The pair were unruffled, running well and taking advantage of anything loose. Both clipped through the legside well, Shafiq adding a pretty drive or two and cuts along the way.
There were scares - Shafiq was dropped on zero and then 'bowled' by Darren Sammy only for the bails to not fall - but they remained unharmed.
Ajmal will not care a jot either, after picking up a career-best six wickets and ending with match figures of 11-111, his first ten-wicket haul and the third-best by a Pakistani against West Indies. To his credit - there is more than a little of (Pakistani singer) Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in him - he has exploited the surface better than anyone.
He began early, trapping nightwatchman Roach in the day's first full over. Lendl Simmons fell soon after off Wahab Riaz and the real game began: Ajmal against Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan. Neither looked confident, Ajmal turning it this way and that, up and down, all over. But Sarwan was just beginning to figure something out when undone by one that spat up at him. Ajmal then got involved in the field, his throw completing a run-out of Brendan Nash which Chanderpaul began by selling him a dummy.
Carlton Baugh didn't hang around in giving Ajmal his fourth, by when runs had long become a lottery. Ajmal continued after lunch, tired, still smiling, a threat. Even though Abdur Rehman struck first after the break, three overs later as Rampaul fell, Ajmal became the fifth Pakistani to take ten in a Test against the West Indies.
But all the while, Chanderpaul had quietly hung around, not doing much but surviving. It took 15 balls to get off the mark and he was missed in the slips early, but he played unequivocally, everything Ajmal came with. He got lucky again, almost run out after smart work by Umar Akmal. It looked out on replay, but after strangely sending back Sarwan on the first day, it is fair to assume Asoka de Silva is unable to umpire even with the aid of video replays.
After tea came Chanderpaul the world knows and loves (WICB officials excluded), chiseling out a boundary-less little masterclass over nearly four hours. There wasn't a single memorable stroke yet it was, in context, a memorable hand. He didn't bother with farming strike, taking runs where he could, nudged, nurdled or dabbed.
In Bishoo he found perfect, sensible support, the 48-run stand the highest of the innings and potentially the game-changing moment, for it came when West Indies were only 170 ahead. Bishoo's composure, as much as anything, stands him out and it shone through again. He first set up his base, not attacking anything. Soon, he began to look increasingly solid, against spin and pace alike, so much so that it took Pakistan nearly 22 overs to end it, and fittingly it was Ajmal who got him.
Not fittingly, he was held at slip; Pakistan missed at least another three chances today, including Bishoo and they hadn't managed to stop a single ball at slip let alone catch any until then. How much it costs them will become apparent tomorrow.