West Indies might have begun the World Cup with hopes of breaking the home-team jinx and winning the big prize, but two losses over three days in the Super Eights have dented their chances, leaving them with plenty of work to do in their remaining four games. Australia dispatched them by 103 runs, New Zealand comfortably enough by seven wickets, and the shoulders of the men in maroon drooped just a touch by the end of a tiring few days.
Things went wrong from the word go, when Stephen Fleming won the toss, and having judged the pitch and conditions perfectly, put West Indies in. Shane Bond justified Fleming's decision by producing the opening spell of the tournament, swinging the ball prodigiously at high pace, and it was only some extremely circumspect batting from the West Indian openers that ensured that wickets didn't fall in a heap. The New Zealand bowlers whittled away, and after 25 overs West Indies were not too well placed at 89 for 4.
Bond hustled at genuine pace and almost every ball swung late and left the left-handed openers. There was plenty of playing and missing, and certainly no attempt at any big shots. Eventually it got to Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who played well in front of his body and only managed an edge to Scott Styris at second slip.
Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan then continued the job of seeing off Bond, and slowly the scoring opportunities arose. Sarwan crunched a crisp extra-cover drive, Gayle thumped more than one ball over mid-off, and a partnership began to build. But, at 66, Sarwan chopped hard at a ball from Jacob Oram that was too close to the stumps and the thick inside edge was brilliantly caught by Brendon McCullum diving to his left, snatching it one-handed just inches from the ground.
The Oram-McCullum combination claimed its second victim when Marlon Samuels failed to withdraw his bat and gloves in time to a ball that pitched on a length and reared up more sharply than he expected. Oram took his third wicket when Gayle, on 44, made a bit of room and shaped to cut, but ended up dragging the ball back onto his stumps. At 81 for 4 West Indies were in more than a spot of bother.
Brian Lara eased the pain a bit with a measured innings, bringing some semblance of control to the batting. Although not at his four-hitting best, Lara was at least on top of the proceedings, keeping the scoreboard ticking over, breathing life into an innings that was in danger of lapsing quietly into deep sleep. Dwayne Bravo did his best to help Lara along, adding 47 for the fifth wicket. Bond, brought back into the attack to nip the partnership in the bud before it became really dangerous, struck right away. He bowled one just around off that held its line, and Bravo, expecting the ball to come in, pushed at it, handing McCullum his third catch of the innings.
When Lara fell soon after, for 37, with the team score only 150, the alarm bells were clanging. Lara played an uncharacteristic and ungainly across-the-line slog against an offcutter, and inside-edged to McCullum, who was standing up to the stumps to Styris.
Denesh Ramdin, fresh from a half-century against Australia, could only make 15 before tamely chipping Daniel Vettori to point. At the meantime Lendl Simmons - an opener for West Indies Under-19, Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies A and the senior team - was sent out to bat at No. 8 and clearly didn't relish the task. He played out a maiden in the 39th over of the innings, and struggled to 3 off 19 balls, before finally deciding to play a few shots. Dwayne Smith mowed, missed and was bowled by Vettori. Daren Powell proffered pad to a full, straight ball, and Bond nailed Corey Collymore to end the West Indian innings on 177.
When West Indies set out to defend a fairly indefensible 177 they needed one of Powell or Collymore to provide a blistering start. Powell bounded in with admirable enthusiasm, and a peach of a delivery, just the second of the innings, came in with the angle just enough and straightened to peg the top of Peter Fulton's middle-stump. Hamish Marshall soon became Powell's second victim, half-checking a drive to Lara at mid-off. New Zealand's lot could have been even worse had a couple of close shouts for lbw been upheld.
But then Fleming, who intelligently bided his time against Powell, built a partnership with Scott Styris. The two added 41 for the third wicket, and appeared to be comfortably heading towards the target, when, under a slight drizzle, Fleming took off for a nonexistent single and Lara nailed down the stumps with Fleming nowhere in the picture. He made 45 and New Zealand were 77 for 3.
From there on, only a brief shower halted New Zealand's canter to victory. Styris helped himself to an unbeaten 80, beginning slowly but in determined fashion, and accelerating to the point where he sealed the deal with a flourish as a seven-wicket win left New Zealand sitting pretty in the competition.