“Down the ground but FIELDER UNDERNEATH AND TAKEN. New Zealand win. The dream is diminished for Carlos Brathwaite, the most agonising and deflating end to this contest for him. We will have a front foot check and collective breath is held across the Caribbean”
This half a minute of play accompanied by the searing commentary of Ian Bishop was the climax of a match that will go down as a World Cup classic.
It was the same voice that had proclaimed “Carlos Brathwaite, remember the name” after the thrilling 2016 World T20 final.
On Saturday, the same name could have very well pulled off a miracle win again. He scored his first international hundred, a knock for the ages. Cool under pressure, Brathwaite smashed 25 runs in the 48th over off Matt Henry – yes, you read that right – to bring West Indies within sniffing distance of a famous win.
Eight runs needed off two overs with Jimmy Neesham running in. Brathwaite takes a double off the fourth ball of the over. Neesham then bowls a short ball on the final delivery and the West Indian pulls it looking for a boundary. It was so close, but he fell short…. by inches, really, as Trent Boult completed a good catch very close to the long-on fence.
The tall man sunk to his knees in shock. There was disbelief everywhere, a front foot no ball was checked but it was over. New Zealand won by five wickets. Their centurion Kane Williamson stood next to the fallen Brathwaite and helped him up.
It was this World Cup’s version of the Grant Elliot-Dale Steyn photo from 2015.
There were six balls still left in the match, but a stunning – or routine, depending on how long you’ve watched the team – collapse from the West Indies meant that there were no more wickets left.
In the span of one match – 99 overs – West Indies showed us the highs and lows they are capable of as a team. From the thrilling pace bowling effort to dismiss both openers in the first over to the drooping of shoulders when a partnership builds. From the ballistic batting of Chris Gayle and Shimron Hetmeyer to the balking inability to play out a few dots and navigate an innings patiently.
The joys and pain of being a West Indian cricket fan was all there in this one match, with Ian Bishop’s poignant commentary to voice their feelings.
Where is the fight gone?
Underneath the drama of the finale and brilliance of Brathwaite, there was one stark note: This Windies team simply doesn’t seem to have any collective fight on the field. Individual moments of brilliance are aplenty, but the team isn’t coming together with the grit associated with the West Indies of the old.
Among all ten teams, they seem the least inspired in middle of the battle. Even Afghanistan showed the will to give a better account of themselves (and they did that successfully against India earlier in the day) after a thrashing in their last game. Pakistan came back after a heavy loss and beat England, Sri Lanka did the same.
But it’s going the opposite way for the Men in Maroon.
They started with a dominant seven-wicket win over Pakistan and almost beat Australia in the next match, falling short by 15 runs. But after losing to a strong England side, they gave up against Bangladesh in a big chase. How does a bowling unit give up midway through an innings defending a target of 322? It’s become a West Indies thing.
On Saturday, West Indies were in the game right from the first ball. With his salutes and military precision, Sheldon Cottrell trapped Martin Guptill LBW and reviewed it accurately. This is the same player who had smashed them for 237 in the 2015 World Cup. He knocked back the stumps of opener Colin Munro to make it two in the over.
But when Williamson and Ross Taylor started playing a patient game, the Windies seemed winded. Just like in the match against Bangladesh, they gave up with the ball soon after the partnership started to build.
A senseless collapse
And they showed a similar trend while batting. Despite Trent Boult snaring two early wickets, it didn’t look like it was going to be a problem for the Caribbean side because a certain ‘Boss’ was in a rare mood. Chris Gayle had earlier gotten the breakthrough wicket of Ross Taylor and his ensuing celebration was perhaps the most athletic he had been on field.
His bat was in free flow, cleanly knocking off the required run rate with expansive, effortless sixes. He had company in the form of the talented Shimron Hetmyer. They put on a century partnership and were well ahead of New Zealand’s corresponding score at the same stage.
New Zealand made only 30 runs in the Powerplay, the West Indies had 59.
Placed so comfortably with no bowler seeming to be able to dismiss them, it looked like the Kiwis unbeaten streak was coming to an end. Till Hetmyer decided to dismiss himself. Or at least it felt like that when he chopped on a slower ball from Lockie Ferguson.
What started then was the ‘Calypso Collapso’.
Jason Holder was dismissed on a duck in the same over, Gayle – dropped twice – holed out soon after and from 142/2 to 152/5 and 164/7, West Indies lost five wickets in 29 balls.
Batsmen after batsmen came in, went for expansive shots and perished with absolutely no consideration that the required rate was actually lesser that their current run rate. The Windies were actually ahead of Kiwis for most part of the match.
But what Gayle and Hetmyer started, the rest continued. They were the only top order batsmen who got settled and had to simply knock the ball around from the position they were in. The ‘Universe Boss’ was nearing a century, had been given so many lives and was a veteran of five World Cups.
Finally, it was Brathwaite, coming in for the injured Andre Russell, and the lower order who showed intent. Kemar Roach applied himself more than Hetmyer. Oshane Thomas and Cottrell batted smarter than Gayle and Holder.
It was fascinating to see how diametrically opposite the approach of the lower order was in comparison to the top order, it was like watching two different West Indies teams.
But in the end, it was all a matter of What ifs. What if one other top-order batsman had played smart cricket and stuck around? What if Gayle had hit one more six? What if Brathwaite didn’t have to do it all alone? What if West Indies showed the fight Bishop in the commentary box and so many other fans wanted them to? In fact, what if West Indies simple played to potential they possessed?
The answer is not far, they just had to look across the result at New Zealand who have had at least one player keep his cool till the end. That’s what makes teams champions and this West Indies has a lot of introspection to do after two straight capitulations.