With 11 runs needed off the last over and Andre Russell on strike, there was not a West Indian in sight who did not see 4-0 coming. But although Mitchell Starc’s last ball went for four to the straight midwicket boundary, none of the first five—all clocked at over 140kph—had.
And so at the Daren Sammy Stadium in St Lucia on Wednesday, the West Indies finished four runs short of Australia’s daunting 189 for 6 and lost by six runs to see the tourists pull back to 3-1 in the five-match series.
In a game that swung this way and that throughout its 40-over duration, the result appropriately remained in doubt until the last two balls. But it could well have been over before that were it not for the late heroics of all-rounder Fabian Allen, whom stand-in skipper Nicholas Pooran called ‘Superman’.
And, Pooran seemed to suggest, the early sloppiness of Oshane Thomas (2-0-31-1).
“We didn’t start properly,” he said in the post-match interview. “The momentum shifted in the fourth over.”
But Pooran refrained from publicly expressing a view on whether or not Russell was right to refuse the singles on offer in the last over and allow Hayden Walsh to have a go.
However, if Russell, who once scored a 40-ball century against the TKR in the CPL, couldn’t do it…
Winning the toss for the fourth successive time, Aussie skipper Aaron Finch opted for first use of what looked like a very good pitch. He may have briefly regretted his decision when Matthew Wade went in only the second over, flailing at a high delivery from Thomas and offering Pooran an easy catch at the wicket.
In Thomas’ next over, though, Mitchell Marsh (75 off 44) savaged him to the tune of 25 runs, ensuring that Pooran’s bowling options were immediately reduced.
Marsh and Finch would take 14 off the next over, bowled by Russell, to get to 72 for 1 at the end of the Powerplay and 16 off over #10, bowled by Lendl Simmons, as Pooran sought to find a replacement for Thomas’ two remaining overs.
The pair would only be separated in over #12, after putting on 114 off only 63 balls for the second wicket, a record against the WI.
Hayden Walsh (3/23), once again WI’s best bowler on the day, bowled Finch (53 off 37), deceiving him with a googly. Doing the same to Alex Carey off the next ball, he gleefully claimed a return catch off the leading edge.
Moises Henriques slapped the next ball to the boundary to deny Walsh the hat-trick. But the leg-spinner would have Ashton Turner niftily stumped by an alert Pooran to claim his third three-fer and his 11th scalp in just four innings. And give Pooran his third victim.
At the other end, meanwhile, Man-of-the-Match Marsh was making merry. He thumped six sixes and four fours on his way to his third half-century in four matches and saw his team to 166 before he feathered a delivery from Allen (4-0-31-1) through to Pooran and departed at 166 for 6.
Sheldon Cottrell (0/31), who has not so far looked at his best, bowled his tidiest over of the innings in the crucial 19th and, in the 20th, Allen conceded 13, ten less than he would take off the 19th when his turn came to bat.
The ambidextrous all-rounder joined Russell at the crease at 132 for 5 in over #16. By then, openers Evin Lewis (31 off 14) and fellow opener Lendl Simmons (72 off 47) had combined to power WI to 50 off just 24 balls and reach 62. Then Adam Zampa (2/20) bowled Lewis, his first victim in four matches.
Chris Gayle (1 off 3) and Andre Fletcher (6 off 14), a somewhat surprising choice at number 4, scratched around briefly without much success before Marsh claimed the number 3 at 86 for 2 and Zampa bowled Fletcher at 97 for 3 in over #11.
With scoreboard pressure mounting, Pooran (16 off 15) tried and failed to clear long-on, guarded by Jason Behrendorff, the 6’ 4” left-arm quick who replaced Josh Hazlewood in the Aussie XI.
So when, in over #16, top-scorer Simmons swung Marsh (3/24) to deep midwicket where Henriques pouched an excellently judged catch inches from the boundary cushions, he became Marsh’s third victim of the innings.
And 58 were still needed off 27 balls at almost 13 per over.
Behrendorff would surrender only 10 in over #17 and Starc 11 off #18. Their fellow pacer, Riley Meredith, was not quite so lucky. Or so skilful.
From 154 for 5, WI would race to 179 for 6, Russell taking a six and a single off the first two balls before Allen (29 off 14) clouted consecutive sixes off the next three and edged the last to wicketkeeper Wade.
But with West Indian presumably remembering the names Carlos Brathwaite and Ben Stokes in Kolkata in 2016, Finch called up Starc, who, he said, ‘is as good as anyone in the world when he executes’.
On Wednesday, the left-hander executed, slaying WI hopes of a 5-0 win by knocking Russell (24 not out) off his feet with his first ball and stopping him in his power-hitting tracks with the next four.
The all-rounder was good enough to make contact every time. But he backed himself to be good enough to clear the boundary twice.
Until Starc proved otherwise.
Australia: 189 for 6 (M Marsh 75, A Finch 53, H Walsh 3/23, A Russell 1/25)
West Indies: 185 for 6 (L Simmons 72, E Lewis 31, F Allen 29, M Marsh 3/24, A Zampa 2/20)
Man-of-the-Match: Mitchell Marsh
Result: Australia win by 4 runs
West Indies lead the five-match series 3-1.