St. Kitts: Ravi Rampaul played a role, but the thoughtlessness of Pakistan's batting played a bigger one as they limped to 180 for 6 on a rain-affected first day of the second Test in St Kitts. The tourists won the toss and the surface looked blameless; no undue movement, good, even bounce and a history of high scores. Yet only Azhar Ali and Umar Akmal realised its true worth, and their half-centuries were sandwiched between two collapses.
It was difficult to know which collapse was worse. The second came as Pakistan were recovering, not entirely composed but firmer than they had been. Ali was providing the calm, Akmal the oomph. The pair had come together at 74 for 4, with nearly half the day gone. The impetus was provided by Akmal, who played an attacking shot to every ball he faced initially.
There was some beauty - a front foot cut off Rampaul for instance - but it was hidden among skittishness. The innings' 44th over, from Devendra Bishoo, was typical: Akmal beaten by a legbreak, then slicing an ugly slog, then sweeping fine and almost popping a catch to cover.
But tea came 40 minutes early because of rain and it instilled in Akmal some of the calm of Ali. There were still strokes - how can there not be? - such as a lovely, clipped three through midwicket off Darren Sammy, before the shot of the innings, a dancing loft over long-off against Bishoo. But these increasingly became the exception, as he put his head down and, like a recovering amnesiac, remembered how Test innings are built.
Ali was as much a contrast as he could be in a 93-run stand, nervous to begin, eventually composed if not ever authoritative. Sammy troubled him, again bringing the ball in off a good length. Ali treated it first as some unfathomable delivery thrown down by a freak concoction of Dennis Lillee, Muttiah Muralitharan and Paul Adams. He fairly crawled to lunch, unsure and jumpy in allowing four of the last six overs to pass as maidens.
But Ali's bubble acquired greater robustness in the shortened afternoon session. He reached out to Bishoo to drive and then, when the legspinner erred short, he cut him through cover. After tea, a back foot punch off Sammy - now much more decipherable - brought a seventh Test fifty, though there was also a sharp chance to slip soon after.
Akmal brought up his sixth fifty just before the fourth and longest rain-break of the day and just as all appeared well, he slipped back into his coma. Chasing a Sammy ball wide enough to be wided, he top-edged the slog to third man. Four overs later Ali went, run-out in a careless mix-up with Mohammad Salman; only Asoka de Silva was more careless in not spotting that Salman should've been out because he grounded his bat after Ali at the non-striker's end. Pakistan ended the day with no recognized batsmen left, no total on the board.
Those late wickets restored the natural order of the day, of a committed West Indies and thoughtless Pakistan. As good as Rampaul's figures for the morning looked - 3 for 13 - and as well as he did bowl, it's difficult to pick out what was so exceptional about it. As in the last Test, he ran in precisely with the enthusiasm of a man unable to believe how his career has suddenly soared, racing in so the dream doesn't suddenly end.
The control was exemplary and if the pitch didn't offer the movement of last week, it offered bounce. Otherwise there looked nothing to suggest anything other than what has gone in two previous Tests here: big runs, forgotten draws.
And yet, by the time of a nine-minute rain interruption just after the first drinks break, Pakistan's top order was done and dusted. It took Rampaul four overs to strike and then he couldn't stop. Taufeeq Umar went first, gloving one that bounced while trying to leave it; Mohammad Hafeez went next, edging essentially a straight ball that bounced a fraction more; Asad Shafiq fell the over after, cutting a wide ball straight to point and Pakistan were tottering at 24 for 3.
Misbah-ul-Haq helped put on an even fifty with Ali, but when he fell, needlessly swiping Bishoo to mid-on, he did nothing to dispel the day's most vivid impression: more than just poor batting - much more worrying in fact - maybe Pakistan's batting is simply not up to it; still or yet, depending on who you're looking at.