There was real energy on and off the field as skipper Darren Sammy blasted West Indies to a memorable six-wicket win over Australia in their crucial Group 2 ICC World Twenty20 match in Mirpur today.
Make no bones about it. To chase 179 for victory was always going to be a challenge. Furthermore, with 31 runs needed off the last two overs it called for a cool head and big hitting.
Sammy was superb. He slammed 34 not out off 13 balls with two fours and three sixes and along with Dwayne Bravo, who made an unbeaten 27 off 12 deliveries including two fours and two sixes, spurred West Indies home with two balls to spare.
The pair added 49 in only 3.1 overs, which left Australia stunned and with very little chance of reaching the semi-finals following a second defeat in as many matches.
It was the highest successful chase for West Indies in T20Is, beating the 170 also against Australia at the Oval in London in the 2009 World T20 tournament.
One could not help but admire the tremendous hitting by both Sammy and Bravo, especially the sequence in the last two overs against the left-arm pair of pacers Mitchell Starc and James Faulkner.
Sammy lashed the first ball of the penultimate over from Starc over long-on for six, took two off the second, then a four through square-leg, followed by two to third man and a four to backward point before gaining a single to end the over.
When Faulkner managed to keep him scoreless off the first two balls of the final over with 12 runs needed, the pressure truly mounted. But Sammy then unleashed successive sixes over long-off and straight and that was that.
What a script! Faulkner did have some chat prior to the match, saying he does not “particularly like” the West Indies players. Sammy had responded that Faulkner was probably the only cricketer who did not like the West Indies.
Cricinfo had reported that in his debut series last year, Faulkner was fined a part of his match fee for shouting in Chris Gayle’s direction after dismissing him in Canberra. Faulkner suggested he would not hesitate to do something similar if it helped Australia in what was a very crucial game for both teams.
“I don’t particularly like them,” Faulkner said. “Good players are good players. You have to do things to get under their skin and try and irritate them to try and get them off their game. Players do that to me and I do it to other players. It’s a fact of the game. A lot of it is played in your mind. If you can do something to upset somebody and upset their team, it goes a long way towards doing well as a group.”
Now one wonders who got under whose skin?
The expressions of Sammy and Bravo as soon as victory was achieved, along with the way Gayle reacted including dancing the Gangnam could not have told a better picture of how much the win meant. West Indies were truly pumped up.
Gayle, himself, played a vital role with a knock of 53 off 35 balls, hitting six fours and two sixes. He seemed out of touch in the previous two matches against India and Bangladesh and it was only a matter of time before he expressed himself.
With his opening partner Dwayne Smith hitting an enterprising topscore of 72 off 43 balls with ten fours and three sixes in a 73-run win against Bangladesh, there is no question that West Indies have found the right combination at the top.
Based on what has transpired so far, West Indies are now in a good position to reach the semi-finals with a most vital match against Pakistan on Tuesday.
It is always easy to be miles away from the action and speculate about batting or bowling performances. While Lendl Simmons and Marlon Samuels are yet to spark, both are good enough to lift their game.
The most effective bowling has come from the likes of left-arm medium-pacer Krishmar Santokie, leg-spinner Samuel Badree and off-spinner Sunil Narine on surfaces, which have been slow. Dew has also been of some concern to the bowlers.
West Indies are now second on four points behind India, who with six points have already qualified for the semi-finals.
On the regional scene, it was very refreshing to see the way Ashley Nurse and Carlos Brathwaite put their heads down to record their maiden first-class centuries for defending champions Barbados in a resounding victory by an innings and 160 runs against Trinidad & Tobago at Kensington Oval in the fourth round.
When compared with the approach of the batsmen in the previous drawn, rain-hit match against Combined Campuses & Colleges at the 3Ws Oval, it was evident that the Barbados team did some homework and approached their task with a better understanding of how to maximise on the new batting and bowling points system.
Nurse slammed a swashbuckling, unbeaten 130 while Brathwaite made 109 in a total of 479 for eight declared off 124.5 overs on the second day.
The pair added 190 in 28.3 overs for the eighth wicket as Barbados piled on the runs to earn four of the maximum five batting points before adding the full three bowling points by dismissing Trinidad & Tobago for 120 in 37 overs.
Following on with a deficit of 359, Trinidad & Tobago were dismissed for 199 in 67.5 overs in their second innings as Barbados triumphed 40 minutes before tea on the third day.
The win gave Barbados 19 points and lifted them from fourth position to the top of the points table going into their fifth round match against Jamaica at Sabina Park in Kingston today.
Nurse was first to his century in just 89 minutes off 85 balls with 15 fours and two sixes, while Brathwaite’s took 206 minutes off 128 balls and included six fours and two sixes.
Brathwaite reached his half-century in 82 minutes off 61 balls with four fours and two sixes, while Nurse attained his in 40 minutes off 47 balls with nine fours and one six.
All told, Nurse batted for 115 minutes, faced 111 balls and struck 16 fours and four sixes, while Brathwaite batted for 215 minutes, received 136 balls and hit six fours and two sixes.
It was a fine all-round match for Nurse. The off-spinner took four for 64 off 19 overs in the second innings for a match haul of six for 91 and was named Player Of The match.
Well played, gentlemen!
(Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights.)