New Zealand get first win of tour to keep series alive
New Zealand 249 for 9 (Nicol 59, N McCullum 50, Russell 4-57) beat West Indies 161 (Russell 42*) by 88 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
New Zealand's tour seemed to have hit rock-bottom midway through the third ODI against West Indies when their only consistent batsman of the series, BJ Watling, joined their lengthy list of injured players. This was after their struggling and inexperienced batting line-up got the gift of a pancake-flat track, a tiny ground where the straight boundaries are only 60m long, and the chance to bat first, but could only reach 249. It was, the pundits agreed, a total that wouldn't challenge Chris Gayle & Co, and West Indies seemed set to continue their dominance in this series.
Instead, New Zealand had their best session of the series, and picked up their first win of the tour. The first sign that New Zealand weren't completely demoralised by their woeful performances so far came in the second over. Trent Boult fired in a yorker in his first ball in ODI cricket, which Gayle managed to squeeze out. The baby-faced Boult walked back to his mark with a smile, unfazed by the pressure of bowling to the most destructive batsman in the world.
All the talk in the lead-up to the match had been about how to stop the marauding Gayle - he had four fifty-plus scores in four games coming into this match. So far, Gayle had combined casual brutality with consistency to put West Indies in charge of every match. This time, though, he was out early, as he edged an away-going delivery from Tim Southee to slip, exposing West Indies' explosive-but-brittle batting line-up.
The one department in which New Zealand have been as good, if not better, than West Indies is the fielding. Today was no different, as they pulled off three run-outs and a sharp catch. That catch by Nathan McCullum sent back Dwayne Smith, who continues to infuriate and enthrall by turns, for 19. Dwayne Bravo was run out soon after, as he attempted a third after Southee had fired in a laser-guided throw from deep midwicket, which reached the bowler inches from the top of the stumps. Martin Guptill made up for his batting failures with a sensational stop at cover that resulted in Marlon Samuel's wicket - on making the save, Guptill instantly flung the ball towards middle stump at the striker's end to catch Samuels short of his ground.
Kieron Pollard whacked a full ball straight to deep square leg, and Darren Sammy played one from McCullum too early, lobbing a return catch to the bowler. West Indies had stuttered to 95 for 7 and the game was up, despite Andre Russell showing off some clean hitting and highlighting the lack of gremlins in the track at the end.
At the start of the match, far higher scores were predicted. Former fast bowler Ian Bishop was talking about how glad he is that he wouldn't have to bowl on this pitch, and former wicketkeeper Jeff Dujon was hoping there was a sufficient stock of balls as he expected plenty to be hit out of the park. That sort of talk ceased midway through New Zealand's innings, as they had lost half their side and were in the middle of a 12-over boundary-less spell.
An already flatlining innings shifted to an even lower gear as Rob Nicol, the only top-order batsman to capitalise on the perfect batting conditions, miscued a catch back to the bowler Samuels. New Zealand were 125 for 5 and the priority switched from looking to belt the bowling around, to trying to play out the entire quota of overs. Once again the young top order failed: Guptill added to his run of low scores, Daniel Flynn didn't improve his pedestrian ODI record, Tom Latham made 12 and Kane Williamson played-on for 9.
One man who would have thrived in these conditions, Brendon McCullum, wasn't picked as New Zealand decided to give him time to acclimatise - he only flew in to the Caribbean a day ago. His brother Nathan, promoted to No. 7 ahead of Jacob Oram, did more than what was expected of him, reaching his fourth ODI half-century, and Watling made his third significant contribution of the series to ensure New Zealand didn't collapse to an embarrassing score.
During a 66-run stand with McCullum, Watling again showed his enterprising brand of batting. There were scoops, sweeps and his bread-and-butter nudge in front of square leg, and with West Indies trying to force him to score on the off side, he unleashed several cuts and a terrific inside-out lofted drive over extra cover for six.
He exited trying another scoop, after which McCullum started to take more risks, even hooking Dwayne Bravo over deep-backward square leg for six. Till Watling's dismissal in the 41st over, McCullum had been cautious, happy to work the singles and make sure no more wickets went down. He finally fell in the final over of the innings, pretty much making sure no overs went to waste.
It still looked too small a total for New Zealand to defend, but a combination of kamikaze batting, outstanding fielding and disciplined bowling proved enough to consign West Indies to their fourth straight defeat at Warner Park.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo