St Kitts: Ably assisted by the West Indies, Taufeeq Umar worked Pakistan into a formidable position on the third day of the second Test at Basseterre. Taufeeq's unbeaten 97 helped the tourists close on 203 for 3, 251 runs ahead already and well-placed for a series-levelling win.
Having fought back through their tail in the morning, West Indies missed numerous chances - dropping Umar twice by the time he was 13 and once on 94 - in a miserable display in the field. They also took a wicket off a no-ball in the very first over of the innings. The early chances were crucial because until this morning, Taufeeq's batting all series had a constipated feel to it, itching to break free mentally, yet physically unable. When he edged Kemar Roach in the third over only for Darren Bravo to shell a regulation chance at first slip, something in him twitched: he'd stared death in the face and not blinked. A little freedom crept in, disbelievingly at first as he drove Roach next ball down the ground.
In Roach's next over, he cut and drove him again but immediately after, he looked death in the face a second time, Darren Sammy dropping him at second slip. Unburdened and believing now, Umar tore into the most forceful batting from either side all series. Three boundaries came from Roach's next over, two drives before he fairly ripped into a cut. Sammy arrived only to be driven through extra cover. Every shot for a while was firmly struck, heavy with intent before a first opening fifty stand was brought up as lunch approached; unsurprisingly it was another straight drive that brought it.
Hafeez, the fortunate recipient of the Roach no-ball, was a keen partner, though after lunch the tempo dropped drastically. Taufeeq decided now was the time to cash in. For the rest of the day he was unrecognizable from the morning stud, a dour old man of an innings, of nudges, glides, bunts and sturdy defence.
He brought up fifty quietly a little before the day's halfway mark and hit not a single boundary after lunch until half an hour before the close. Typically, it was a straight drive. Thereafter he roused in a bid to reach a first hundred in nearly eight years before the close, driving Rampaul again before being dropped - athletically - by Lendl Simmons at mid-off. A few balls later he narrowly avoided being run out.
But across the afternoon there was relief from Azhar Ali in a pleasant and surprisingly fluent innings. He gave one chance at slip, but looked in little trouble, driving and cutting well in a 76-run stand. More significantly, he rotated strike, which he doesn't often do. Particularly useful in this endeavour was the paddle sweep he employed regularly against the spinners. Soon after tea he reached an inevitable eighth Test fifty but just when a first, breakthrough hundred looked equally inevitable, he fell, cutting to slip.
Both the wicket-taker Devendra Bishoo and the West Indies in general deserved that, for they sharpened up after lunch. Sammy bowled those inswingers Pakistan are unable to comprehend - they come in - to which Hafeez fell; another good start wasted. Bishoo controlled the other end in a good, long spell through an equally long afternoon, unlucky not to have Umar stumped and Ali caught earlier. The very real threat of a big-turning, big-leaping jaffa remained throughout.
Roach of the wretched luck also returned for an energetic spell after tea in which Asad Shafiq was sent back. Ultimately, West Indies did well to keep Pakistan down to just 147 runs after lunch, not only keeping the potential target down, but taking time out.
Still it didn't mask the dominance of Pakistan's position or how the sterling morning work of Rampaul and Roach was wasted. Late yesterday, the pair had landed some heavy blows; not so this morning. From the offset they looked secure and the strokes were accomplished, none of the impatience of the top-order of both sides.
The first boundary came as Roach guided Abdur Rehman through slips and in the next over, he cut Tanvir Ahmed for a far more authoritative boundary. An over later, as Rampaul cut Hafeez for two, the fifty partnership came up.
Eventually it was left to Hafeez - who has at times looked Pakistan's most threatening bowler - to break through, deceiving Roach in flight. Soon Bishoo gave Umar at slip his fourth catch of the innings. How West Indies must have wished later he was standing in their cordon to himself.