With three overs left in the innings and the South Africa batsmen needing 42 runs for a series-sealing win, Kieron Pollard summoned Dwayne Bravo to bowl the last of his four overs.
It took only one ball for him to decide the outcome of Thursday’s Game Four at the Grenada National Stadium and take West Indies into Saturday’s deciding game tied 2-2 with the tourists in the five-match series.
In the crucial game, South Africa were chasing 168 for victory, the West Indies target on Tuesday. Despite the in-form Quinton de Kock’s second successive half-century, they could muster only 146 for 9. But with the left-handed wicketkeeper/batsman still stroking the ball around on his way to 60 off 45 balls when Bravo came on, things could have gone either way.
In the event, he sliced Bravo’s first ball, a delivery so wide it might have had to be re-bowled if left alone, straight into the hands of Lendl Simmons at backward point.
From 126 for 6 at the start of the over, Temba Bavuma’s side slipped to 128 for 9 by the end of it. And only the margin—21 runs as it turned out—and not the result was ever in doubt thereafter.
The eventual WI victory had looked far from likely, however, when Fabian Allen joined his skipper at 101 for 6 in the 16th over. But in Games Two and Three, Pollard had managed one off four balls and one off two balls respectively.
He was due. He delivered.
The pair took 66—11, 12, 25 and 18—off the last four overs to give the bowlers a fair chance of evening the series. Man-of-the-Match Pollard got to his half-century off just 25 balls, blasting five sixes and two fours in his unbeaten 51. Three of those sixes came off consecutive balls in over number 19 when he smashed Kagiso Rabada’s first three balls over the fence and his last to it.
In all, the WI scored 11 sixes and 12 fours but the dot ball tally, a matter of genuine concern went up to 50. And despite the tweaks to batting order and personnel, coach Simmons and skipper Pollard can hardly be completely happy with the batting, execution rather than approach being the problem on Thursday.
Before the 66-run seventh wicket partnership, they had had only two of any substance, Shimron Hetmyer (7 off 12 balls) and Lendl Simmons (47 off 34 balls) adding 31 for the third wicket after Simmons and Evin Lewis (7 off 5 balls) had put on a quick 27 off the first two overs.
Simmons got off to a blistering start, taking 20 (4, 4, 6, 6) off the first over, bowled by off-spinner Aidan Markram—a surprising choice.
But, put in to bat, the top and middle order once more failed to live up to expectations and skipper Pollard had to take matters into his own capable hands. And there will be concern that, not for the first time, the South African spinners have proven to be a thorn in the WI’s side, their eight overs yielding only 29 runs but claiming four of the six wickets to fall.
If Pollard’s decision to use up Bravo’s allocation before the last two overs worked well for the WI, the same can hardly be said of Bavuma’s choice of Lungi Ngidi to bowl over number 18 with Rabada still having two overs left.
In hindsight, with Pollard in the mood he was in, it would probably have made little difference but Rabada conceded 25 off number 19 while Ngidi went for only 30 in his two.
In their chase, the tourists were undone by yet another surprising choice of bowler. After Fidel Edwards conceded eight runs off the opening over, just below the required run-rate, with no Kevin Sinclair to call on, Pollard opted to give the ball not to Bravo or Allen but to Chris Gayle.
His first lollipop drew Reeza Hendricks out of his ground and Nicholas Pooran made a smart stumping, the replay showing the batsman’s foot on but not behind the line.
Twice at critical moments, Pooran was less smart. At 71 for three and the pressure to get boundaries building, his sloppy work conceded four byes off a Pollard delivery. At 120 for 6 and the pressure building on de Kock to get back on strike, he again conceded a sloppy bye off Obed McCoy.
On the whole, Pollard will be pleased with his own and his team’s performance on the day. The tourists failed to score off 42 deliveries, four more than in any of the earlier games, and only managed 11 fours and four sixes. Worryingly, however, one man, de Kock, got more than half, six of the fours and two of the sixes.
So Pollard will hope that in Saturday’s decider more than one or two of his batsmen will come to the party and feast on the South African bowling.
And that not just one or two of his bowlers will have the wherewithal to rain on de Kock’s parade.
West Indies: 167 for 6 (K Pollard 51*, L Simmons 47, G Linde 2/16, T Shamsi 2/13)
South Africa: 146 for 9 (Q de Kock 60, DJ Bravo 4/19, A Russell 2/30)
Man-of-the-Match: Kieron Pollard
Result: WI won by 21 runs