Earning more than half the required runs in sixes, Kieron Pollard’s West Indies cruised to an easy 8-wkt win in the First T20I against South Africa at the Grenada National Stadium on Saturday.
Needing a modest 161 for victory after Pollard won the toss and saw his bowlers pull Temba Bavuma’s tourists back from a rollicking start, the WI batsmen were in their element. The top order seemed to relish the conditions, especially Man-of-the-Match Evin Lewis who contributed seven sixes in his hard-hit, match-winning 71.
Only 36 of the winning total came in fours while over-the-boundary hits accounted for a total of 90. Three sixes each came from number three Chris Gayle and number four Andre Russell while Lewis’ opening partner Andre Fletcher chipped in with two.
Like the South African openers before them, Lewis and Fletcher began like a house on fire, racing to 73 in the power play. Lewis was particularly severe on anything short and peppered the leg side and straight boundaries with huge hits for 12 overs. He reached yet another half-century off fewer than 25 balls before he mishit a Tabriz Shamsi delivery into David Miller safe hands at long-off.
By then, Fletcher had departed, just beaten by Lungi Ngidi’s throw from square-leg after he hesitated to respond to Lewis’ call for a leg-bye. That wicket fell in the ninth over and, at the halfway mark, the score already stood at 93 with only Fletcher gone.
With the scoreboard pressure off, Gayle was able to bide his time and wait for the bad balls. Perhaps it was a conscious choice but the former opener never looked anything like the destructive batsman who once put the fear of God into opposing bowlers.
Truth be told, the WI opening pair had already made the result look like a foregone conclusion, repeatedly pummelling Bavuma’s best bowlers for fours and sixes. The inexperienced skipper used four different bowlers in the first four overs and, by the end of the power play, had already resorted to a fifth, Shamsi.
In the second half of the innings, Shamsi and Anrich Nortje were able to slow the momentum somewhat but Gayle and Russell’s power hitting easily saw the WI home with five overs to spare.
Earlier, Pollard’s decision to open with the combination of 21-year-old Kevin Sinclair and former skipper Jason Holder proved costly. The pair conceded 33 runs off the first four overs, 21 of them coming off the off-spinner.
Taking over at Holder’s end, left-arm spinner Fabian Allen made an immediate breakthrough, bowling opener Reeza Hendricks in his second over, the fourth of the innings. The tourists were still able to reach 53 in the power play and add another 33 in the next four overs.
Needing to rein in the batting, Pollard then called on the experience of Dwayne Bravo, whose admixture of full-pace and slower balls did the trick for the skipper. With admirable support from young Obed McCoy, who looked very much like a left-handed version of himself, the 37-year-old Trinidad and Tobago all-rounder largely dried up the boundaries.
At 61 for 2, Russell had claimed the crucial wicket of the in-form Quinton de Kock and the expectation was that David Miller, a destroyer on his day, would replace him. But Bavuma had other ideas and Miller remained at number 6 and the steady but not destructive Rassie van der Dussen came at four. So by the time Allen dismissed Bavuma, caught in the deep trying to force the pace, the score stood at 95 for three in the 12th over.
Only five overs were left in the innings when, 17 runs later, Allen claimed an assist, catching Klaasen off Holder. And Bravo then snared two wickets in successive balls, forcing Miller to hole out to Pollard on the long-on boundary and George Linde to Sinclair running back at extra-cover.
Van der Dussen’s steady accumulation meanwhile had taken him to 56. But his side’s 160 proved no challenge for the WI batsmen.
Pollard praised the efficiency of the team’s performance. But nothing he said to the post-match interviewer suggested that he was not confident that his men can repeat the feat four times.
His opposite number Bavuma promised to use the short time between stumps in the first game and the call of play in the second for a team discussion about tactics.
On the evidence of Saturday, their talk will have to be very fruitful to prevent Pollard’s men from steamrolling again in Sunday’s match-up.
S/Africa: 160 for 6 (R van der Dussen 56*, Q de Kock 37, F Allen 2/18, D Bravo 2/30)
West Indies: 161 for 2 (E Lewis 71, C Gayle 32*, A Fletcher 30, T Shamsi 1/27)
Man-of-the-Match: Evin Lewis
Result: WI won by 8 wkts