Manchester: New Zealand 291 for 8 (Williamson 148, Taylor 69, Cottrell 4-56) beat West Indies 286 (Brathwaite 101, Gayle 87, Hetmyer 54, Boult 4-30, Ferguson 3-59) by 5 runs. We’ve had Sri Lanka, the No. 9-ranked team that came to the World Cup in utter disarray, stunning No. 1 side England. We’ve had Afghanistan coming within a couple of hits of upsetting India.
Neither of those results, however, will live on as the defining memory of these last two days. West Indies, chasing 292 against New Zealand at Old Trafford, were 164 for 7. Then 211 for 8. And 245 for 9. But Carlos Brathwaite wouldn’t be defeated. He saw off the tenth overs of Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson, New Zealand’s best and most dangerous bowlers on the day, with a bit of help from the No. 11 Oshane Thomas.
Then, with 33 needed off the last three overs, he tore into Matt Henry. There was a sweet, baseball-style swat over long-on, a mighty drive high over extra-cover. There was a fortuitous slice wide of third man and a top-edge over the keeper too, but no one – perhaps not even the New Zealanders – will have begrudged him a bit of luck: 2, 6, 6, 6, 4, and an all-important last-ball single to keep the strike, smartly steered to third man. Brathwaite ended the over on 99, with West Indies eight runs from victory.
New Zealand had used up their main bowling options, so they went with their fifth bowler, James Neesham, for the 49th.
Fifth bowler against one of the game’s most dangerous hitters, a man with the winds of an otherworldly performance in his sails, a man with the winds of history in his sails. Remember the name?
But Neesham’s slower ball kept him on tenterhooks. Two swipes and misses. Then a pulled double to bring up three figures. Only six needed. One hit.
Last ball of the 49th was in Brathwaite’s arc: a touch short of a length, angling into him but not so much that he doesn’t have swinging room. Big swing, and a pretty sweet connection.
But not sweet enough, not far enough to the right of Trent Boult, sprinting from long-on. He was leaning over the boundary rope when he caught the ball, his feet inches away from it. Inches. That’s how close it ended up.
Take away Brathwaite, however, and the gap between the two sides was much wider – the width of the gap between ODI cricket and T20. Already once in this tournament, against Australia, West Indies lost from a position of strength thanks to the spirit of T20 creeping too far into their ODI game.
It happened again on Saturday. Chasing 292, West Indies were 142 for 2 after 22 overs, with a pair of half-centurions at the crease. New Zealand had been erratic with the ball; too short, too wasteful. They had missed vital chances in the outfield.
For West Indies, the cold, hard ODI approach would have been to keep New Zealand on the ropes, and give them no opening. The fields were defensive by necessity, and singles were available if the batsmen wanted them. But Shimron Hetmyer and Chris Gayle kept taking the high-risk option. That approach had brought them the bulk of their runs, but it had also kept them on the edge: Gayle had only just been dropped twice in an over. But they kept swinging, even though a top-order batsman, Evin Lewis, was nursing a hamstring injury and hadn’t batted yet, and couldn’t be expected to contribute too much. They kept swinging, opened the door for Ferguson’s clever changes of pace, and 142 for 2 became 164 for 7.
The first two-thirds of Brathwaite’s innings, spent mostly in the company of Kemar Roach and Sheldon Cottrell, was all about smart, sensible ODI batting: he watched the ball, read the field settings, assessed the risks, and rebuked his team-mates with the ease of his run-scoring in excellent batting conditions. In the end, he had to reach into his T20 kitbag, but, unlike his team-mates, only out of necessity.
The first half of the match was far less dramatic, but that’s because Kane Williamson doesn’t do drama. Sheldon Cottrell, bowling full and swinging the ball dangerously, took out both openers, and that set the tone for the early part of Williamson’s innings, in the company of Ross Taylor. They ensured New Zealand saw off the new balls without further loss, and the score inched to 36 for 2 in 12 overs before the strokes began to flow around the ground.
There were trademark Taylor pulls with a whip of the bottom wrist, trademark Williamson drives between mid-off and extra-cover, and a contest between the two as to who could play the prettier straight drive. At the 30-over mark, New Zealand were 144 for 2.
From there on, the old ODI adage of doubling your 30-over score if you have wickets in hand worked a charm. Taylor fell for 69, failing to clear mid-off, but Williamson, who came into this game with scores of 79 not out and 106 not out in his last two innings, stretched his run of un-dismissed run-scoring to 333, off 390 balls, before he top-edged Cottrell in the 47th over. There was lower-order biffing from Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme and Mitchell Santner too, and New Zealand ended up with what looked, at that point, like an anyone’s-game kind of total.
For the first third of West Indies’ chase, it seemed hardly adequate. Then it looked more than enough. And then, Carlos Brathwaite happened.