As Andre Russell walked towards the dressing room for a short break after three fiery overs, he was asked by a team member, “Are you tired?” In that last over, he had hurled four bouncers and a yorker. In the previous two, he had made the ball kick up brutishly. “Yes, a little bit tired, but I am fine. I know my role. Three-over spells. Rest. Then another three. That’s what I want, that’s what the captain wants from me.” Russell harassed, Oshane Thomas hustled. Jason Holder probed — and Pakistan succumbed to a seven-wicket loss. It was far more embarrassing than what ‘a seven-wicket loss’ suggests. They were all out for 105 in 21.4 overs. West India overhauled the total in 13.4 overs.
Those numbers only partially capture the threat that the Caribbeans posed. Nearly every Pakistani batsman’s head was threatened, their will and skills tested as West Indies made a huge statement.
Three overs of hell from Russell. This tournament was supposed to throw up 350-plus run-fests. Instead, thus far, we have seen Joffra Archer for England, and Russell and Thomas for West Indies have the batsmen hopping, skipping and praying. Pakistani bodies contorted, their faces winced, the cluttered and shattered headspace threw up weak swats and hurried prods. They couldn’t escape the heat, though. There was no place to go. If Russell wasn’t at their throats, Thomas was. Occasionally, they went full, tripping and teasing the batsmen.
Babar Azam isn’t a fool. But he was made to look like one. Azam is easily the classiest batsman in Pakistan, and in the world. Easy on the eye, shots that oozes quality, and he started off with couple of crunchy pulls that sent out a message to Thomas: ‘Don’t think, you can just run in and hurl bouncers, that doesn’t scare me.’ In fact, he pummelled those two pulls to perfection, nailing them way in front of square. We had a contest. Here is where Thomas showed order and method, not just brawn. This isn’t a team that is just going to run in and pound the earth. He slipped in fuller ball that curved away a touch, and Azam — even Azam — was caught at the crease. He didn’t expect such nuance. He came up with an airy wavy response, the bat driving ahead of his body, and the edge was swallowed with great alacrity.
That Thomas moment had everything Caribbean: Thought, brute force, skill, and athleticism. The intellectual credit was denied to them, even in their pomp in the late 70’s and 80’s. Michael Holding almost bristles in indignation even now. “It was as if they thought we just ran in and bowled fast. That’s what irks me the most. I tell them, go check the scorebook, how many were lbw, bowled, caught in slips or whatever. It’s as if they don’t want to credit our thinking,” Holding says.
There was enough evidence on offer in Nottingham that West Indian bowlers aren’t brain-dead pace zombies. Not just Thomas, Russell also produced one such moment. Just after he had cranked up four bouncers on a trot, and mind you, knocked out Haris Sohail with the fourth, Sarfraz Ahmed came out to bat. There must have been a great urge to ping the Pakistan captain too on the head, but Russel darted in a yorker to check out if Sarfraz had come with any preconceived notions after watching the mayhem from the dressing room.
Another factor that emerged from the day — and this is probably the most vital and reassuring for the West Indians fans — this is a team that fiercely wants to prove a point or two to the world. It’s not like a few years ago, when there was a sense of entitlement in a few players and a bit of apathy in a few others.
Consider Russell, for example. We know his return from doping ban and how that fuelled his rage to get maniacally fit and unleash fury as a batsman. Last evening, he talked about a few other motivations.
Snubs, rather. Personal affronts. He didn’t like the fact that the television broadcasters term him as a medium pacer when they show his photo on air before bowling changes and stuff like that. “Don’t call me that! I am not a medium pacer. I wanted to show the world I am a fast bowler.” He deadpans his delivery that one had ask him again whether he was joking or was he really upset. “I was actually that. I didn’t like being called that.”
To be fair, as he would say a short while later, his pace was more like 80 miles per hour in the past. The intense work on body and stints at nets have cranked up his pace — above all he is at such a confident headspace that he feels he can conquer the cricketing world. With the bat and the ball. He also talked about how he wasn’t going to change his batting style. “This is not Test cricket. Why would I change? I would bat the way I did in T20s.”
Thomas too has his own stories of struggle and the need to succeed. When he was 11, the brother with whom he used to play at the backyard was shot dead in Jamaica. A few years later, when he was getting money at an ATM, he was threatened with guns. It’s a childhood that he has sought to escape. “I just try to stay away from all that,” he said last evening. “Jamaica can be like that. I want a good future for myself and my family.” His urges and motivations are different than Russell’s but they, in their own ways, are driving this team ahead.
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