In the first T20I at the Daren Sammy Stadium in St Lucia on Friday, the West Indies only got to 24 for 2 in the Powerplay; in reply to the home side’s total of 145, Australia raced to 70 for 3 at the end of the first six overs.
At that stage, the outcome seemed never in doubt.
But led by right-arm leg-spinner Hayden Walsh Jr (3/23) and left-arm quickie Obed McCoy (4/26), the West Indies bowlers put the skids under the tourists, who collapsed to 127 all out to lose by 18 runs.
Even before the end of the Australian Powerplay, the result had seemed to be a foregone conclusion. But Andre Russell (51 off 28 balls, 3 x 4, 5 x 6) intervened. The all-rounder, little more than a passenger in the recently concluded series against South Africa, crashed 16 off each of overs #15 and 16 to revive the West Indian effort.
On either side of the dismissal of Shimron Hetmyer (20 off 25) at 101 for 5 in the 15th over, Russell twice smashed the left-arm orthodox spin of Ashton Agar and the left-arm pace of Mitchell Starc over the ropes off consecutive balls.
Their fifth-wicket partnership was worth 36. Russell would add another 36 with Fabian Allen (8 not out) before he pulled a delivery from Josh Hazlewood (3/12), the pick of the Aussie bowlers, on to his stumps off the inside edge in the last over of the innings.
Winning the toss on a ground where the visitors had never lost a T20 game, Aussie skipper Aaron Finch asked Pooran’s men to take first strike. Struggling at 65 for 4 after 12 overs, the WI looked a badly beaten side. In-form opener Evin Lewis had not troubled the scorers and neither his opening partner Lendl Simmons (27 off 28 balls, 2 x 4, 2 x 6) nor clueless-looking number three Chris Gayle (4 off 10) had stepped up to fill the lead role the left-handed opener had often played against South Africa.
At the helm in the absence of the injured Kieron Pollard, skipper Nicholas Pooran (17 off 16) added 30 with Hetmyer to see his side past 50 and onto a still unsteady 65 for 4. Then, in an unfortunate mix-up with Hetmyer, he was run out at the bowler’s end.
That was when Russell took over. And with just four balls left in the innings, Dwayne Bravo creamed Hazlewood’s last delivery over midwicket to allow Pooran’s men to end on a very high psychological high.
When Aussie skipper Finch drove the first ball of the second over, bowled by Allen, straight to Lewis at extra-cover, West Indian self-belief went even higher. But Finch’s opening partner Matthew Wade was in no mood to provide positive stroking for anybody’s ego.
Two mighty blows off Russell in the same over, #4, in which he departed saw him race to 33 off just 14 balls. Then, he picked out Hetmyer’s safe hands on the cover boundary.
Josh Philippe came and went, tied up in knots by McCoy’s first delivery, a slower ball which he spooned gently to a gleeful Bravo at mid-on. And Moises Henriques (16 off 8) briefly threatened to do a Russell, heaving McCoy over midwicket off his first two balls. But Allen induced the error, finding an outside edge for Bravo, at backward point, to snap up the second of his three catches on the day.
Still, at 89 for 5, with 56 more runs needed from 12 overs, Finch’s men remained in the driver’s seat.
Together, Walsh and Man-of-the-Match McCoy dislodged them.
After Bravo and Allen slowed the momentum with economical overs at #9 and 10, the leg-spinner bowled Ben McDermott neck and crop to leave the second half of the batting needing to get 37 off the last nine overs.
And when Mitchell Marsh (51 off 31 balls), who had thumped a couple of sixes and five lusty fours since coming in at number three, misread one from the leg-spinner and offered him an easy return catch, all the smart money was on the home side.
So, like Pooran’s men, the punters went home with broad smiles on their faces.
McCoy claimed Agar, flinging himself forward to snaffle a low return catch. He then added the scalp of Mitchell Starc, superbly caught by Allen sprinting around from midwicket to dive forward and claim a stunning catch, and last man Hazlewood, caught first ball by Pooran behind the stumps.
At the other end, Walsh got his third victim, Dan Christian holing out to Bravo at long-on,
A disappointed Finch was visibly displeased that his side had contrived to lose a game which the top order had put them firmly in charge of. Unsurprisingly, he promised to come back stronger in the second game.
Pooran was high in praise of his ‘brilliant’ bowlers. No surprise that he gave the assurance that the negative South Africa experience is behind the team now.
But when these two adversaries square off again in Game Two on Saturday evening, neither Pooran nor Finch nor anyone else on the field is likely to forget that Pollard had led his WI to a much less exciting 1-0 lead at this same stage in the South African series.
And then his batsmen let it slip.
West Indies: 145 for 6 (A Russell 51, L Simmons 27, J Hazlewood 3/12, M Marsh 2/26)
Australia: 127 all out (M Marsh 51, M Wade 33, O McCoy 4/26, H Walsh 3/23,)
Man-of-the-Match: Obed McCoy
Result: West Indies won by 18 runs.