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Azam century, Shah cameo stun West Indies

(ESPNCRICINFO) – It was all going to plan, until it suddenly wasn’t. The usual hundred from Babar Azam – his fourth in five innings – set Pakistan up for what looked like a fairly straightforward chase of 306, before a middle-order stutter let West Indies back in.

In the end, it was left to a gem of a cameo from Khushdil Shah, who smashed four sixes en route an unbeaten 23-ball 41, to see Pakistan home by five wickets and four balls to spare.
It meant Shai Hope’s 12th ODI hundred, which was classy enough to merit winning the game in its own right, ended up in vain, as the visitors fell just short in an attritional ODI.

The target didn’t hold much fear for Pakistan, at least not while some combination of the ever-reliable top three was still out in the middle. When Jayden Seales forced Fakhar Zaman to flat-bat one to short point, it brought Imam and Babar together – two men who combined famously to chase down 349 against Australia.

The West Indies fast bowlers, though, kept things tight on a Multan surface that looked like it wasn’t allowing the ball to come on so easily in the evening, and for a while, it was all Pakistan could do to ensure they didn’t lose a cluster of wickets while waiting for batting to get easier.

While Babar took his time en route his first 50 runs, Imam was brisker. After fortuitously surviving a marginal lbw call early on, he took charge of keeping the asking rate in check, finding regular boundaries and routinely turning the strike over. It took 56 balls for him to get to his half-century, by which time the asking rate was creeping to seven.

Eventually though, the wicket-taking threat that West Indies posed began to fade, and right on cue, Babar whirred into action. By the time Akeal Hosein struck to remove Imam, he was in full flow, inexorably motoring along to his 17th ODI hundred.

Mohammad Rizwan, whose lack of form in this format has come under scrutiny – if only for the sharp contrast it presents compared to his T20 record – kept him company. Pakistan were building towards something of a cruise of a finish, with 72 required in nine overs with eight wickets still in hand.

But Alzarri Joseph, perhaps the pick of the West Indies bowlers, drew Babar into mistiming a bouncer, and with 69 to win and a fragile middle order to come, West Indies sniffed an opportunity. The runs dried up and Romario Shepherd got rid of Rizwan soon after, and suddenly an asking rate that looked comfortable was pushing 12 in the final four overs.

It was time for the Khushdil show. Shepherd was put away for three successive sixes – the bottom hand power in each of them particularly impressive – as Pakistan inched closer once more. West Indies struck with the wicket of Shadab Khan and took it to the final over, but by then, the damage Khushdil had inflicted was too much from which to recover. Mohammad Nawaz sealed the win with a six over long-on, and Pakistan had survived a scare.

A classy 127 from Hope, which took him past 4 000 runs in ODIs, had powered West Indies to 305. The backbone of the innings was a 154-run partnership between Hope and Shamarh Brooks – two men who effortlessly made the transition from cool Amstelveen to sizzling Multan. It set for the visitors a glorious platform, but Pakistan struck back after Brooks fell for 70 in the 31st over thanks to a superb diving catch from Shadab.

Pakistan secured regular wickets from thereon, while also keeping the run-rate in check, but a strong finish from Rovman Powell and Shepherd catapulted West Indies past 300.