A magnificent, low, diving, one-handed catch by Fabian Allen stopped Aaron Finch’s Australians in their tracks as they sought to chase down an Evin Lewis-powered West Indies target of 199 runs. And unable to motor on, the tourists fell 16 runs short as the Nicholas Pooran-led home side closed out the series 4-1.
For the first time in five games, Pooran won the toss and opted to follow Finch’s lead in the last two games and not insert the opposition.
For the third time in eight games, Man-of-the-Match Lewis slammed a rapid, boundary-laced half-century to leave Australia with a mountain to climb. The left-handed opener, the West Indian form horse so far this year, clouted no fewer than nine towering sixes and four fours in his 79 off just 34 balls before he mishit a delivery from all-rounder Mitchell Marsh for sub Nathan Ellis to complete the catch.
By then, the WI had already progressed to 124 in over #11.
Lewis had moved swiftly to an individual 50 off just 23 balls as he and Andre Fletcher, preferred to Lendl Simmons at the top of the order, raced to 40 off the first four overs. Fletcher (12 off 16) then departed off the first ball of over #5, not for the first time, bowled all over the shop by Adam Zampa.
But the successful beginning proved to be bitter-sweet for the leg-spinner as Chris Gayle, retained at number three despite the late inclusion of Darren Bravo, clouted him for 20 off the next five balls, the sequence reading 4-dot-6-4-6.
Not to be outdone, Lewis racked up two fours and two sixes in Jason Behrendorff’s next over to see his team to 81 for 1 at the end of the Powerplay, dotted with eight sixes and five fours.
At a similar stage, the Australia score would read 66 for 2, a solitary six and 11 fours the boundary count.
New face Mitchell Swepson, one of three changes to the Aussie line-up, ended Gayle’s cameo with the third ball of his spell. Behrendorff swallowing the left-hander’s lofted drive down on the boundary behind the bowler.
From 124 for 3, when Lewis fell, an uncharacteristically unfluent Simmons (21 off 25)—in an unusual position at number four—added 44 with his skipper, who punished Swepson like an old schoolmaster, 6-6-6-4 coming in his third over, #15.
After that, the run-rate slowed appreciably, Russell (1 off 3), Allen (1 off 4 and Bravo (5 off 7) in unwontedly at number 8, all failing to impress on the day.
Right at the end, Hayden Walsh Jr (12 off 8) gave new impetus to the debate about Russell’s refusal to take the last-over singles in Game 4, slamming Josh Hazlewood over cow corner for a last-ball six.
Andrew Tye (3/17) and Mitchell Marsh (2/12) were the best bowlers for the Aussies. But Marsh could not reproduce his Game 4 Man-of-the-Match performance.
After Sheldon Cottrell claimed makeshift opener Josh Philippe with the last ball of the first over, the all-rounder again found the fare offered up by the sharp Oshane Thomas much to his liking and motored to 30 off just 15 balls.
But he struck Russell’s first ball of the innings straight back at him in over #5, leaving the task of sherpa to Finch. With Moises Henriques, promoted to number 4, the Aussie skipper kept his side in the game as some lusty hitting saw them add a second 50 in only 27 balls.
It was at 95 in over #10 that Allen made arguably the most telling of all the crucial interventions by Pooran’s fieldsmen. Player-of-the-Series Walsh induced a lofted drive from Finch (34 off 23) down to long-on. Racing some 15 yards to his left at full speed, the athletic left-hander flung himself low to his left to pluck the missile out of the air with his strong hand.
Few would have been surprised to see that chance dropped. Instead, what dropped was Finch’s jaw. And Australia’s chances of getting to the mountaintop.
The realistic odds on an Aussie victory fell even further when, at 100 in the same over, an alert, athletic Pooran raced from behind the stumps to retrieve a ricochet off Alex Carey’s pads. Henriques (21 off 14) was still inches out of his ground when the skipper’s throw broke the stumps at the batsman’s end.
After that, Matthew Wade (26 off 18), back down in the middle order, and Andrew Tye (15 off 8) tried to keep Australia in it. But Chris Gayle (3-0-9-0) produced a miserly three-over spell. And at the other end, Russell (3/43) bowled the wicketkeeper with the first ball of his third over and claimed the pacer with the third ball of his last to finish with his best T20I figures.
Walsh, preferred to Allen for over #18, conceded 11 and, retained for #20, gave up another 15. But Cottrell, held back for #17 and 19, finished off the Aussie effort by sending back Behrendorff.
And Walsh’s accurate long throw from long-off enabled Cottrell to remove the bails with Zampa’s bat overhanging the crease.
But by then, neither the outcome of the game nor of the series was still hanging in the balance.
The captains made all the right noises about the positives. Pooran cited Walsh, Allen and the fielding, Pollard pointed properly to Pooran and Walsh, and Finch to Marsh.
Nobody mentioned the 17 sixes—the record is said to be 22—that came off the West Indian bats as compared to a mere five from the Aussies. But nobody doubts, that staunching that flow will be one of the Aussie skipper’s focuses in the days ahead.
As well as finding quite a few more positive contributors when the three-match ODI series begins in Barbados next week.
Toss: West Indies
West Indies: 199 for 8 (E Lewis 79, N Pooran 31, A Tye 3/37, M Marsh 2/12, A Zampa 2/30)
Australia: 183 for 9 (A Finch 34, M Marsh 30, M Wade 26, S Cottrell 3/28, A Russell 3/43, H Walsh 1/43)
Man-of-the-Match: Evin Lewis
Result: West Indies win by 16 runs
West Indies won five-match series 4-1
Player-of-the-Series: Hayden Walsh Jr