Pakistan’s 3-0 whitewash of the T20 world champions West Indies was a stunning result and one that uncovered the shortcomings of West Indies’ power-hitting strategy on slow pitches with big boundaries and also suggested the capability of Pakistan’s bowling attack to become one of the world’s best.
Before the start of this series the West Indies had won six of their seven completed T20 matches in 2016 and had utilised a deep and powerful batting order but in this series it was largely their batting that lost them each of the three matches.
In the first match, batting first, they were reduced to 22 for 5 before being bowled out for 115; in the second match, chasing 161, they were reduced to 19 for 3 and then 45 for 4 before finishing 144 for 9 and in the third match, batting first, they were reduced to 31 off 4 before scrapping their way to 103 for 5.
The first two matches of the series were played in Dubai while the third was played in Abu Dhabi. Pitches in the UAE are slower and lower than elsewhere and the boundaries are bigger; such conditions, where the ball does not come onto the bat as well and the bounce is less predictable, are not conducive to power-hitting which is largely dependent on the ability to swing hard and fast through the expected line of the ball and being rewarded for this is understandably made harder as the size of the boundary increases. The conditions therefore required the West Indies to adapt their method but they didn’t.
Prior to this series the slog made up 10% of the shots played by the West Indies in 2016, in this series that number fell slightly to 7% but tellingly the strike rate of those shots fell from 242 to 51, the average from 31 to five and the shots per dismissal from 13 to nine. Similarly, prior to this series the pull shot made up 8% of shots played by the West Indies in 2016, in this series that number actually increased fractionally but again the strike rate of those shots fell from 261 to 151, the average from 68 to 15 and the shots per dismissal from 26 to ten. Similar falls were experienced for the cut shot as well. Revealingly, the shot-types that failed the West Indies were cross-batted shots – ill-advised on slower, lower pitches. Unsurprisingly the larger boundaries in the UAE correlate with a rise in the strike rates for working, pushing, flicking and steering the ball.
The conditions in the UAE mean boundaries are harder to come by and running between the wickets assumes greater importance but it is clear from the shot-type analysis that the West Indies either failed or refused to recognise this.
Speaking after the first match West Indies captain Carlos Brathwaite appeared to suggest that it was not the shot selection but shot execution that cost his team. “We didn’t execute it the way we wanted to,” he said. “On some other day those same shots could have gone for boundaries and sixes.” Brathwaite did admit however that his players needed to be more “situation aware” for the following two matches. There was some improvement in this regard with West Indies scoring 144 in the second match and Marlon Samuels and Kieron Pollard restraining their aggressive instincts in the third match but they failed to find a gear in between attack and defence and both scored at well under a run-a-ball. Samuels’ innings was the third slowest of all innings to have lasted at least 50 balls in T20i history.
Interestingly this is not the first time that West Indies’ approach has been exposed on such pitches. Earlier this year on the low, slow Nagpur pitch during the World T20 West Indies narrowly beat South Africa and lost to Afghanistan.
The West Indies’ task in this series was undoubtedly made more difficult by the brilliance of Pakistan’s bowling attack which, in four consecutive T20s including their win against England, has been superb.
Pakistan’s attack is made up of an eclectic mix of bowlers of varying styles, paces, angles and trajectories. Their unpredictability and variation combined with the low, slow UAE pitches makes them hard to dominate.
Pakistan played the same team in the first two matches before making two changes for the last match but in all three, and the match against England earlier in the month, their bowling order and changes followed a similar structure demonstrating the existence of a clear plan of who would bowl when and it was stuck to.
Left arm spinner Imad Wasim, who took nine wickets, the joint-second highest wicket-haul in a series of three matches or fewer, bowled the first and third over in each of the three matches and took three, one and two wickets in his three opening spells, setting the West Indies back early on and from there they could not recover.
Imad generally bowls an accurate line and length, largely full and very straight, relying on subtle changes in length, line, pace, angle and trajectory to avoid batsmen lining him up and waits for the batsman to miss, something the West Indies, attacking hard, did regularly on two-paced pitches with unpredictable bounce. Six of his nine wickets were bowled or LBW.
Imad largely bowled two different lengths: a traditional good length pitching between four and seven metres from the stumps and a fuller change-up length between one and four metres. In the match against England it was the fuller length that took him two wickets, here in this series, all his wickets came from the more regular length deliveries.
The damage done by Imad was reinforced and built on by the rest of the attack. Left arm seamer Sohail Tanvir bowled from over the wicket, angling the ball across right handers and into left handers, largely from back of a length, between seven and ten metres from the batsmen with the yorker and changes in pace, dropping to as low as 55mph, as variation.
Right arm seamer Hasan Ali bowled over the wicket and varied his length and pace with almost every delivery, rarely bowling similar balls consecutively with his speeds ranging between mid-80s to high-60s.
Left armers Wahab Riaz, entirely from over the wicket, and Mohammad Amir from over and round, were employed as impact bowlers, relying on significant changes of pace from around 90 mph to mid-60s and regular short deliveries. Left armer Rumman Raees bowled a slightly fuller average length than Wahab and Amir and dropped his pace from mid-80s to mid-60s almost every other ball.
The attack was completed by left arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz and off spinner Shoaib Malik who varied their line and length subtly and within a small range, never trying anything notably unusual but changing things just enough to ensure the batsmen could not settle.
The variation in style and strategy offered by Pakistan’s bowling attack is well-suited to T20 where being unpredictable is key. It will be fascinating to see them on flatter pitches with smaller boundaries to see if they can maintain their impressive form in more difficult conditions for bowling. Make no mistake though, this was a hugely impressive series victory for Pakistan and an equally, if not more unimpressive, series defeat for the West Indies.
Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz.