4 days, 4 thrilling encounters! The conquest at Manchester reached an epic level when Brathwaite decided to take desperate measures. But West Indies being West Indies. A bit more sense would have bailed them out….
We experienced a week during the ongoing World Cup, when nothing was happening due to rain. Some mouth-watering contests were getting washed out leaving the fans and critics bemused. We can’t control the whims of weather, but of course, we can take necessary steps to prevent matches from meeting such a sad end.
“We put men on the moon, so why can’t we have a reserve day, when actually this tournament is a long tournament”, Steve Rhodes asked International Cricket Council at the press conference, when weather forced Bangladesh to split points against Sri Lanka – a match, which the Tigers could have won. India and Pakistan experienced the same frustrations as the World Cup started to become an event, which is controlled by the whims of weather.
But after a lull, came the days, when each and everyone fell in love with 50-over cricket, yet again.
4 days, 4 thrillers!
The Cricket World Cup 2019 burst into life.
In a do or die encounter against New Zealand, South Africa, yet again, crumbled under pressure. The Sri Lankan Lions would come from nowhere to shock England in a low-scoring thriller at Trent Bridge, while the minnows Afghanistan; would give mighty India the scare, for which they were not even prepared for. In a tense last over, Mohammed Shami bagged a hat-trick to calm the Indian nerves and while the fans were recovering from the stress of that heart-racing encounter at Southampton, New Zealand and West Indies would gift them a wealth of stress at a moment, when the match was all but lost.
At 164 for 7, the West Indian hopes not only diminished but the damp squib amid the thrilling encounters in the past few days, actually was not fitting appropriately. The focus shifted to Sao Paolo, where the Samba Boys were thrashing Peru. It was the match, where Brazil desperately needed to reply to the boos of fans back in Salvador, Bahia. And they did it in style – agility, aggression and fluid football were unleashed as the men in yellow shorts kept on scoring goals after goals.
But someone named Carlos Brathwaite did not stop hitting the ball the West Indian way.
Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor saved New Zealand batting order yet again to post a competitive total. The West Indian reply was like Twenty20 – as if they were given the task to finish in 15 to 20 overs. Chris Gayle and Shimron Hetmyer hardly moved their feet at the crease while smothering those humungous sixes all over the park. Their intention was to deal with big boundaries rather than rotating the strike – a good ploy in the shortest formats of the game, but in longer formats, they always give the opposition an opportunity to cash in.
The New Zealand bowlers did not have to think much when West Indian batters threw away their wickets while going big.
But it is this intention to hit-everything-on-your-way; scripted one of the epic matches and memorable hundreds in the history of World Cup.
In a crazy-but-brutal-hitting in the late order, where the ball went this way and that from top edges to falt-batted swipes, Brathwaite ran Williamson and his men for their money as the game to a stage where West Indies needed 8 runs off just 12 balls. When Sheldon Cottrell was dismissed by Lockie Ferguson in the 45th over, West Indies were still 47 runs short and the novice-with-the-bat Oshane Thomas joined him.
Brathwaite would face the bulk of the deliveries in the last five overs. In the 48th over, he would take Matt Henry to the cleaners, milking 25 runs in one over – it was the hitting of highest quality as if a Giant from the stories of Arabian Nights was devouring his brutishly. Even a miscued pull, dragged from outside off, disappeared in the deep square leg fence. Full-length, good-length, low-full-toss or short-of-length at pace or reducing the pace – nothing mattered.
Brathwaite had changed the scenario in just 3 overs. I repeat, just three overs!
Let the buzz in Sao Paolo gain momentum, Manchester deserves more attention than ever.
A historic moment was all set to take place!
The ever calm and composed Williamson kept on discussing with his bowlers on which length they should bowl and how to set the field. Already, Brathwaite has taken him to a position, where you have no idea left to execute. But still, Willaimson is not someone to give up. He and his team have been riding on luck since that meeting against Bangladesh at the Oval, but to exploit that slice of luck, you need to plan accordingly.
Willaimson threw the ball to Jimmy Nesham and adjusted his field by keeping more men at deep on the onside. The onside field from that position was a bit larger than any other corners of the field and Brathwaite’s habit of clearing the distance through midwicket, square leg and long on prompted Kane to stack the onside field. Williamson sensed, Brathwaite would not go for strike-rotation, but finish things off with one single-big-hit.
Neesham kept the line in-and-around offside. Neesham’s first ball was short outside off from a short of length, which Brathwaite tapped to extra-cover – the field who was brought inside along with mid-off to stop singles and prompt Brathwaite to commit a false stroke. The next delivery was similar but with a reduction in pace. Brathwaite went to pull but failed. It would have been better if he played through offside finely for a single or couple.
But Brathwaite is a West Indian and he would play his way. The next ball was certainly pulled towards midwicket for a couple as he celebrated a marvellous hundred. Neesham decides to go for a legcutter, a bit wide, from short of a length and deceived Brathwaite. Both the bowler and batsman looked towards umpire thinking of whether it was called a wide or not.
To the satisfaction of Neesham the umpires did not call it a wide, but it made Brathwaite restless. He would attempt another pull shot against a short ball, but at long on, Trent Boult would keep his calm to grab the catch. Heartbreak for Brathwaite. He went down on his knees.
The finish to the #WIvNZ game was edge-of-the-seat stuff, evoking a wide range of emotions in the audience.#MenInMaroon #BackTheBlackcaps pic.twitter.com/SF9yHbzIxD
— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) June 23, 2019
Neesham soaked up the pressure like a sponge. Taylor and Willaimson would console Brathwaite, like Grant Elliot and Kiwis did to Dale Steyn four years ago. The spirit of cricket was alive and kicking, but West Indies and Brathwaite would not forget this missed opportunity.
So close, yet so far!
Inches away from glory!
The story could have been different, had Brathwaite and other West Indian batters not only depended on clean-hitting but strike-rotation as well. They lost by just five runs and those five runs could have been achieved by giving a bit more focus on fetching singles and couples.