Magical Astle helps New Zealand seal the series
Nathan Astle showed he was worth his weight in gold to this New Zealand team, crafting a superb century to take them to a total of 276 and then pulling off one of the most stunning catches you will see in a long time as West Indies lost a thriller by 21 runs. Ramnaresh Sarwan and Ian Bradshaw did their utmost in a tight situation at the death but the task was just beyond them.
Again West Indies created many chances, and routinely squandered them. That they had two wickets off no-balls - one caught at slip and another bowled - was a perfect summation of their day's play. When Stephen Fleming won the toss and chose to bat his biggest worry was how the top-order would fare, and those concerns proved to be well founded.
Ian Bradshaw - as he has done largely unsupported all series - picked three wickets in his first spell. He induced Lou Vincent to hole out to mid off, had Fleming caught at midwicket top-edging a pull and Scott Styris tickling one to the keeper. When Peter Fulton chopped Dwayne Smith to Chris Gayle at slip leaving New Zealand at 87 for 4 West Indies had a strong chance of restricting New Zealand to a manageable score in good batting conditions.
But Astle, a veteran of more than 200 ODIs, knew the score, and kept the West Indian bowlers at bay. He realised that West Indies' second line of bowlers posed little threat and simply refused to make a mistake. Initially he cut out his favourite scoring shots, the forcing drives square of the wicket played with an angled bat, and focussed on picking up ones and twos with irritating regularity. Astle had built a partnership of 99 with Hamish Marshall (43) before West Indies got their next chance to tighten the screws as Marshall attempted one big shot too many and holed out to Ganga at long-on.
When they quickly accounted for the dangerous Brendon McCullum, run out for only 10, West Indies were in with a real chance to keep New Zealand down to under 250. But Astle picked the right time to accelerate, looking for the odd boundary to go with scampered runs, and then ended the innings in a crescendo that got the crowd to their feet. He smashed the last three balls of the innings - bowled by Gayle - for big sixes, and had done his part, taking New Zealand to 276. Astle's unbeaten 118 came off just 126 balls, and put West Indies on the back foot.
When West Indies came out to bat Gayle, no doubt still smarting from being hammered by Astle, attempted to thrash his way out of a spot. With the ball not moving much off the pitch he was able to swing through the line, and the even bounce that the pitch at the Jade Stadium afforded was ideal for him to play the big shots every time the ball was a trifle short. As is so often the case with Gayle, his strength proved his undoing. He went after one ball too many - a clever slower one from Mason - and holed out to Vettori at mid off for 38 off only 23 balls.
Morton, who played a rather defensive innings in the second ODI, opened his shoulders a bit here, and found an ideal partner in the industrious Ramdin, promoted up the order to keep the run rate up. The two played positively, striking the ball with assurance and confidence, and suddenly Fleming had a problem on his hands. He turned to Vettori and was not disappointed.
After adding 69 for the third wicket Morton, who really should have settled down to play Vettori with some degree of caution, played a huge heave over the on side and only found Franklin at long-on. New Zealand had got a crucial breakthrough, and Morton's 62-ball stay at the crease that yielded 58 had come to an end. Just three balls later Vettori doubled West Indies' trouble, when Ramdin (28) swept, missed and was trapped plumb in front.
Suddenly New Zealand were right back in control with two new batsman at the crease and West Indies on 128 for 4. Soon things got worse for West Indies as Shivnarine Chanderpaul played an ungainly swipe at Shane Bond, missed, and was unlucky to be adjudged lbw to a ball that pitched well outside leg. From 141 for 5 it would take an extra-special effort for West Indies to reach their target.
The only such effort, though, came from Astle. Smith tried to clatter Jeetan Patel over midwicket, and had timed his hit sweetly. Astle, on the ropes, jumped up, timing his leap perfectly, plucked the ball out of the air, and landed safely within the ropes. Stunned West Indian supporters could only gawk in awe as another wicket fell, with the score reading 153 for 7, and it seemed Astle could do no wrong. Ian Bradshaw played an astonishing hand, carving out 37, and Ramnaresh Sarwan raced along to 65, but they only provided a glimpse of the impossible, as West Indies fell short by 21 runs, giving New Zealand the series 3-0.
Lou Vincent c Chanderpaul b Bradshaw 25 (34 for 1)
Drove inside-out to mid off
Stephen Fleming c Morton b Bradshaw 15 (61 for 2)
Top-edged a pull towards midwicket
Scott Styris c Ramdhin b Bradshaw 1 (64 for 3)
Tickled to the keeper
Peter Fulton c Gayle b Smith 21 (87 for 4)
Chopped to slip
Hamish Marshall c Ganga b Gayle 43 (186 for 5)
Holed out to long on going for a big hit
Brendon McCullum run out (Ramdin) 13 (211 for 6)
Came down the pitch thinking about a single on an lbw shout and was too late getting back as the keeper threw down the stumps
Daren Ganga b Bond 1 (2 for 1)
Cleaned up by a fast, inswinging yorker
Chris Gayle c Vettori b Mason 38 (58 for 2)
Holed out to mid off
Runako Morton c Franklin b Vettori 58 (127 for 3)
Slogged to long-on
Denesh Ramdin lbw b Vettori 28 (128 for 4)
Swept and missed
Shivnarine Chanderpaul lbw b Bond 4 (141 for 5)
Unlucky to be given out lbw to one that pitched outside leg
Wavell Hinds st McCullum b Patel 4 (147 for 6)
Came well down the wicket to hit the ball out of the ground and missed it completely
Dwayne Smith c Astle b Patel 2 (153 for 7)
Miraculously caught at midwicket by the fielder leaping up in the air right on the ropes
Rawl Lewis c McCullum b Patel 10 (173 for 8)
Attempted a cut and edged to the keeper
Ian Bradshaw c Vincent b Mason 37 (250 for 9)
Holed out to long off when he had to go for the big hit at the death
Ramnaresh Sarwan c Vincent b Bond 65 (255 for 10)
Could not clear long off
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo