Australia snatched a victory that should never have been theirs as Shane Watson delivered a superb final over that consigned West Indies to a devastating one-run defeat. Chris Gayle's 92 had set up what appeared certain to be a successful chase as West Indies pursued 283, but a string of late wickets ensured Michael Clarke tasted success in his first ODI as Australia's captain.
Clarke found out just how tough it is juggling bowlers at the end of a tense match as he used up his main men Brett Lee and Nathan Bracken in the 48th and 49th, leaving Watson as the only realistic option to send down the 50th. But crucially the final overs of Bracken and Lee contained a wicket each and when Shivnarine Chanderpaul (53) was bowled trying to turn Bracken through leg it left eight required from six balls.
Darren Sammy and Denesh Ramdin could only manage six singles as Watson pitched the ball up magnificently. Three were needed from the final delivery, which Sammy drove to mid off, where Clarke collected it cleanly to keep them to one and give himself a perfect, if stressful start to his one-day captaincy career.
He probably could not believe the result after West Indies were cruising through most of the innings. With eight overs remaining, they had seven wickets in hand and needed just 41 with Dwayne Bravo and Chanderpaul at the crease. Bravo was bowled by James Hopes for 31 but the momentum didn't really start to shift until a cracking late spell from Brett Lee, who tied down the debutant Shawn Findlay and took 1 for 10 from his final three overs.
Lee picked up Findlay through a stunning catch from Michael Hussey, who dived at full stretch to his left at midwicket. Four dot balls to Ramdin followed and West Indies could sense something was going wrong. Disappointment is a feeling that has been common for them in this series, but to throw away such a promising start would have been heartbreaking.
Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan had set them off to a terrific start with a 137-run second-wicket stand that was a welcome change in a series where they have cried out for contributions from their senior batsmen. After battling a groin injury and a dip in form, Gayle was back to his best in an innings that featured some powerful strikes, including a ferocious six over long on from a Lee half-volley.
Gayle also took a particular liking to Hopes, whom he clubbed flat and straight for six before clipping him for four through the leg side in an over that cost 14. His half-century came in 45 deliveries but his frustrating exit just short of triple-figures - he skied Watson to point, where Hopes took a terrific catch - turned out to be a key moment.
Already Sarwan had departed for a well made 63, edging behind off Lee having just dispatched him for a pair of fours. Sarwan pounded the part-time offspinner David Hussey straight over his head for six having started superbly with his first two deliveries driven straight and through cover for boundaries off Lee.
The Gayle-Sarwan union seemed to confirm what most observers thought: Australia's 282 for 8 was unlikely to be enough on a ground with a lightning fast outfield and tiny boundaries. In their three previous one-day internationals at Warner Park, all at last year's World Cup, the lowest total Australia had reached was 334. On this occasion, despite an excellent 87 from Andrew Symonds and a promising 50 from the debutant David Hussey, it was a string of unfulfilled starts from the top-order players that limited the team's score.
Daren Powell nipped the new ball around dangerously and removed both Shaun Marsh and Watson after they made starts, and when Clarke and Michael Hussey fell in the 30s, Australia were 129 for 4 and in a bit of a hole. But Symonds, the Man of the Match, paced his innings well, starting with singles and twos before launching a late attack that featured a massive six straight down the ground off Powell. It was Symonds' 101st six in ODIs after he brought up his 100th with a controlled drive over long on against the first-gamer Nikita Miller.
Symonds also showed off his version of the reverse sweep, an unconventional take on an already unusual stroke. When Miller pitched the ball on his pads, Symonds shaped as if to play a normal sweep, then ran the ball off the back of his bat down to the third-man boundary. It was nowhere near as gobsmacking as Kevin Pietersen's switch-hitting but it was innovative all the same.
When his 78-ball 87 ended with a drive caught at mid off, it was the finish of a 127-run partnership with Hussey, whose 50 from 51 deliveries included a six slogged over midwicket off Bravo and another driven viciously over long off against Powell. To their credit, West Indies' bowlers pegged back the rate in the dying overs when they picked up 4 for 23.
It was enough to limit Australia to a gettable total. As West Indies know only too well, they should have got it. Instead they will return to the same venue on Sunday for the final match, desperate to prove a point to their critics, including their own disgruntled board president.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo