Say what you like about all of the on-field errors that West Indies' cricketers have committed on this tour of Australia. But save some energy for condemnation of the off-field howlers too. The omission of batsman Ricardo Powell from a Test squad sorely lacking attacking strokemakers, for instance, was a glaring oversight. And it was one that it took him just ninety deliveries to authenticate as he led his side to a tense one wicket win with eight balls to spare in the Carlton Series match against Zimbabwe here at the 'Gabba ground in Brisbane tonight.
For all of the unpredictability and mystique that one-day international cricket has relinquished over the course of the last nine months, it still retains an innate capacity to produce wonderful twists and turns and breathtaking finishes. This encounter was one to exemplify the fact. West Indies' seventh match against international opposition on this tour and Zimbabwe's first on Australian soil in six years, it developed into the sort of cliffhanger rarely witnessed in this country in recent years.
With another disappointing West Indian batting surrender occurring around him, much rested upon the broad and powerful shoulders of Powell (83*). He strode to the crease in the twenty-fourth over with his team staring down the barrel of another defeat at a score of 4/119 as it set out after Zimbabwe's 9/240. Yet he handled the difficult situation with the class and sophistication of a player who has been presented with far more than thirty-six one-day internationals and a solitary Test to underline his prowess.
Powell was denied the opportunity of enhancing a career statistic that shows he has struck more sixes than fours - for the record, he struck nine shots into the boundaries and only one over it - but scored from exactly half of the deliveries that he faced. He deployed the sweep stroke and the cover drive with particular aplomb. Against an attack which was steady but unspectacular, his strokeplay was little short of magnificent.
Had Stuart Carlisle and Travis Friend capitalised upon a golden opportunity to run him out in the fortieth over when he had only forty-seven runs alongside his name, Zimbabwe might have defended its total. The pair did not; the team did not.
Variously, the Zimbabweans had reduced their opponents to scores of 3/72, 5/137 and 6/155 at different stages of the evening. Despite resolute performances from Sherwin Campbell (42) and Marlon Samuels (34), the West Indian top order was generally unable to effectively kickstart its team's chase. Wavell Hinds (0), Brian Lara (21) and Jimmy Adams (24) again struggled to occupy the crease for anything but brief periods. Lara, in particular, played another carefree innings that looked unsuited to the situation.
That the Zimbabweans had set the West Indians such a chase owed much to the hard work of opener Alistair Campbell (81) at the top of its batting order. On the occasion of his 150th one-day international, the hard-hitting left hander was in supreme form, rewarding captain Heath Streak's decision to bat first on a hard, straw-coloured pitch upon winning the toss.
The former Zimbabwean captain lost out-of-sorts opening partner Trevor Madondo (6) early in the day but looked comfortable from the outset, even amid a fine new ball burst from Cameron Cuffy (1/52 off nine overs) and Nixon McLean (3/48 from ten overs). He played straight early, hitting a number of solid drives through the arc between mid off and mid on, before gradually playing more expansively and striking some exquisite blows through the off side in particular. Moreover, in the midst of fifty-four and eighty-six run partnerships for the second and third wickets with Carlisle (29) and Andy Flower (33) respectively, he nullified any apparent threat offered by a West Indian attack that did not seem to have enough in the way of strike bowlers to crash through on the placid 'Gabba surface.
But the Zimbabweans ultimately lacked the necessary polish to capitalise upon Campbell's performance. Wickets were surrendered too readily in the middle and latter stages of their innings; slips catches were dropped; misfields and overthrows were too prolific; run outs were missed. They played with a heart and a zest that, at times, was entrancing. However, they brought to their game some unforgivable sins too.
The task of securing victory certainly requires more than just heart in circumstances like these. They conceded a forty-six run stand in thirty-four minutes to Powell and Mahendra Nagamootoo (8) for the eighth wicket that proved decisive in the final analysis. Nagamootoo was removed with twelve runs still left to attain, and McLean was forced to beat a path back to the pavilion with two runs required and eleven deliveries remaining. Cuffy (1*) scrambled a single from a shot played through square leg to level the scores and then Powell - by this stage with only the medium pace of Guy Whittall (2/16 off 3.4 overs) left to counter given that Streak had already fully utilised the services of all of his best bowlers - issued a powerful blow over mid wicket.
The knowhow and nerve that the Zimbabweans had needed to ally to their enthusiasm had somehow eluded them. As it was, the West Indians possessed slightly more in the way of both commodities when it really mattered.
Zimbabwe (and Rhodesia)
Zimbabwe vs West Indies
Zimbabwe tour of Australia
West Indies tour of Australia