West Indies take series despite Taylor ton
West Indies 264 (Pollard 56, Oram 3-42) beat New Zealand 240 (Taylor 110, Best 4-46) by 24 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
West Indies sealed their first ODI series win over a Test nation other than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh since April 2008, barely overcoming a heroic century from Ross Taylor, who returned after missing four matches due to a shoulder injury. Taylor was up against too many opponents today - an offspinner conceding two runs an over, a fiery quick bowling at close to 150 kph, and his own batsmen, only one of whom managed a strike-rate of more than 60.
Despite those challenges, Taylor kept slogging sixes over the leg side to bring the equation down to 50 off the last seven overs. Sunil Narine bowled three of those overs for two, four and three runs. New Zealand were also denied a no-ball, and a free-hit, in Narine's last over. Taylor holed out in the next, the 49th. Game over.
Taylor had arrived in the eighth over when New Zealand's other big hope, Brendon McCullum, playing his first competitive game since the IPL, had pulled Andre Russell to short midwicket for 10 off 18. Taylor's response was consecutive fours - a trademark cut past point and a push past mid-off. Three overs later, Rob Nicol, who had swung his way to 35 off 31, lofted Darren Sammy to deep midwicket. Taylor's response was to walk into an extra cover drive for four.
Kane Williamson was again a mess against Narine, and New Zealand were reduced to 75 for 4. Then followed the highest partnership of the innings, 71 for the fifth wicket between Taylor and Tom Latham, who trudged to 32 off 62 and further increased the pressure on his captain. The stand ate up 20 overs, dot balls making up more than 11 of them, as Narine, Sammy and Marlon Samuels proved difficult to get away.
Nathan McCullum and Jacob Oram carried on in Latham's vein, but Taylor found a way again, slogging Samuels and Russell for consecutive sixes each. But even Taylor could not do anything about Narine, who finished with 10-1-20-2. The maiden he bowled was to Taylor. With 28 needed off 11, Taylor miscued Tino Best to point, and handed the series 3-1 to West Indies with a game to go.
It was the second time West Indies had recovered in the match. Their batsmen had been tested again, first by Sammy's decision to bat under overcast skies and on a pitch freshened up by rain, and then by Chris Gayle's early dismissal. And again they struggled against a New Zealand attack bowling with refreshing intent for the second game running. But their depth in batting bailed them out from 20 for 3 with Kieron Pollard's mature half-century - his slowest in ODIs - leading the recovery.
Until Pollard and Devon Thomas - playing because Denesh Ramdin had to get married - took 53 runs off the batting Powerplay, West Indies had limped to 129 for 5 in 35 overs. But the Powerplay shifted the momentum, and West Indies carted the last 15 overs for 135.
In the third ODI, Pollard had come in at 52 for 4 and left West Indies in a bigger hole at 85 for 6. Today, he came in at 59 for 4 and carried them past 200. Until he hit his first boundary, Pollard had made 14 off 41. He quadrupled his score off the next 29.
It didn't matter where New Zealand bowled. Pollard kept swatting them on the leg side. He even dragged a Tim Southee full toss from far outside off stump in front of square leg. Thomas overcame his own struggle to play a neat supporting knock before both he and Pollard fell after taking West Indies towards 200. Andre Russell and Darren Sammy ensured they got well over the 250-mark, with several powerful blows at the death.
Anything above 200 was looking highly improbable at 20 for 3. The pitch and conditions were helpful, and New Zealand's four seamers exploited them skilfully, troubling the batsmen with swing, seam, bounce and nip. The fact that most of the West Indies batsmen like to bat in only two gears, top or neutral, helped New Zealand.
Southee, who had removed Gayle in the third ODI as well, did the job again, striking the left-hander in front with his first ball.
Samuels showed how it was to be done on this track, getting surprised several times by Oram's sharp bounce but surviving with soft hands. He chose the right deliveries to attack and placed them well. However, on 46, he was trapped in front by a skiddy Nathan McCullum delivery to leave West Indies on 105 for 5.
West Indies needed the remaining batsmen to follow Samuels' approach, with the pitch easing out. Pollard was the unlikeliest to do so, but he did. He also left New Zealand needing to make the highest successful chase on this ground to level the series; despite Taylor's heroics, they fell short.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo