West Indies don’t win much in Test cricket nowadays. And when they do, there is almost always an element of theatre to it. Sample the last year: West Indies have won three out of nine Tests – chasing down 395 for the loss of seven wickets in Chattogram, winning in Dhaka by 17 runs, and now defeating Pakistan by one wicket in Kingston. Only 14 times before this had a team won by one wicket, four of them featuring West Indies. The last one came at Headingley in August 2019 – Ben Stokes scored an unbeaten 135 – in what is billed as possibly the best ever Ashes win for England. Six months before that came another nail-biter which Sri Lanka won in Durban courtesy a flamboyant century by Kusal Perera. Close fourth innings chases have almost always been synonymous with heroic centuries and resilient rearguards.
Kingston was a low-scoring affair, a tumultuous chase fashioned by the Windies lower order after 19-year-old Jayden Seales took 5/55 to bowl out Pakistan for 203. With more than a day to get the target of 168, the chase for West Indies should have been far easier, but chances of victory looked all but gone when Jermaine Blackwood (the only batsman to get a fifty in the second innings, 55) and Jason Holder (the only batsman with a first innings fifty, 58) were dismissed in the space of 26 deliveries. Seven down, West Indies still required 54. That the target was achieved despite Shaheen Shah Afridi and Hasan Ali going full throttle at the last West Indies pair of Kemar Roach and three-Test old Seales makes this Test one for the ages, a template for anyone who wants to know how to keep calm in the face of hostile bowling.
One-wicket victories are the equivalent of sudden death shootouts, only nerve-wrackingly longer. This one lasted 25 deliveries as Roach tried to find the gaps and inch towards victory. “I was just trying to take on every ball as it came,” said Roach, who stayed unbeaten on 30 and stitched a 17-run stand with Seales. “This is by far the most important innings. I was just trying to pick the gaps and run hard. My advice to Jayden (2*) was to just protect the stumps.” This is now the second West Indies-Pakistan Test to finish with a one-wicket margin, the last one being Antigua in 2000 when Wasim Akram finished with 11 wickets but couldn’t break the last-wicket partnership between Jimmy Adams and Courtney Walsh. Between then and now, West Indies have ended up ceding a lot of ground in the longest format, making the latest win even more creditable.
Two T20 World Cup wins, a successful home T20 franchise league and heavy defeats to top nations (in June, West Indies lost to South Africa by an innings and 63 runs and 158 runs in St. Lucia) are largely responsible for Test cricket’s low stocks in the Caribbean. Compared to the star-heavy teams in white-ball cricket, the Test squad of West Indies is rather average. And the results haven’t been too encouraging. Out of 41 Tests after their 2016 T20 World Cup win, West Indies have won only 14. But it has not always been gloom and doom.
A surprise 2-1 series win at home against England in 2019 was bookended by thrilling victories in Southampton (July, 2020) and Leeds (August, 2017) where Blackwood (95) and Shai Hope (118*) drove home their cause. Bangladesh at home have been nearly impregnable (they even beat Australia in 2017) but West Indies rallied twice to beat them earlier this year. The three-wicket win in Chattogram – debutant Kyle Mayers (210*) anchored a remarkable chase of 395 –
is one of the greatest in Test cricket simply because West Indies were forced to field three new faces after 10 players opted out of the tour due to Covid-19 concerns. But the latest, played out in front of near-empty stands at Sabina Park, should give West Indies the impetus they have long needed in the longest format.