New Zealand 179 for 5 (Neesham 48*, Conway 41, Thomas 2-23) beat West Indies 180/7 (Pollard 75*, Fletcher 34, Ferguson 5-21, Southee 2-22) by 5 wickets (DLS method)
New Zealand hosting West Indies in a T20I at Eden Park always promises drama. It's where the two teams played out the first ever bowl out in 2006, and then the first ever Super Over, called the one-over eliminator at the time. And on Friday, international cricket returned to New Zealand after a gap of eight months, and the teams served up a night that had it all - towering sixes, fantastic fast bowling, three rain interruptions, and in the end, a five-wicket win for the home side, brought home by a debutant and two allrounders while chasing a revised target.
Lockie Ferguson was the first hero of the night, precipitating a collapse of five for one for West Indies, who had raced to 55 without loss from three overs with five fours and three sixes after being put in to bat by Tim Southee. Kieron Pollard then led a stunning rearguard to record a career-best 75 not out, and took West Indies to 180 for 7 off their 16 overs. New Zealand set about their revised target of 176 in right earnest, but lost four wickets including Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor for a combined total of five runs. That's when debutant Devon Conway combined with Jimmy Neesham to take the attack back to the visitors, plundering 41 and 48 not out, respectively, and Mitchell Santner brought up the winning runs in the final over.
The dramatic start: Take 1
There were two rain interruptions inside the first two completed overs, after Southee opted to field, keeping his seam-heavy bowling combination and the overhead conditions in mind. The first delay took place after just four legal balls by Southee himself, with two wides, and a gorgeous cover drive from Andre Fletcher fetching West Indies seven. Southee handed the second over to debutant Kyle Jamieson, and Fletcher went after his extra bounce and pace on offer with relish, with Brandon King also joining in the fun as 18 came off the second over. The heavens opened up, for another delay, following which Fletcher and King pulled out the drives, cuts, and straight swipes down the ground to pick up 29 off Hamish Bennett's first over. At the three-over mark, West Indies looked set for a massive total with 55 on the board, and a power-packed batting line-up yet to come out.
The dramatic start: Take 2
That's where Southee handed the ball to Ferguson, and the match swung, soon after King had placed the first ball of his spell through the covers for three. Fletcher had a swipe across the line at one that decked in from outside off, and was bowled. Shimron Hetmyer's patience lasted all of three balls, as he tried to make room to punch the last ball of the over, and ended up nicking through to Tim Seifert. In the following over, Southee had King drive one down third man's throat, and surprised Rovman Powell with a short ball, that he played down to Ferguson at fine leg. Ferguson came back to beat Nicholas Pooran with a pacy full toss, and West Indies had lost five wickets for one, ending the powerplay at 60 for 5.
Pollard and Allen fight back
Pollard and Fabian Allen started with caution, but kept the early tempo going when scoring avenues opened up for them, taking West Indies to 96 for 5 at the halfway mark, when another light shower sent the teams into the dugouts. After resumption, West Indies were left with 16 overs to complete their innings, and Pollard decided to target the fifth bowler's quota, given to Santner and Neesham. Neesham's first over produced three sixes and a four for Pollard, and by the time Ferguson returned to remove Allen, he had already added 84 runs off 50 balls with his captain. Ferguson also got Keemo Paul to nick one to Seifert, making him just the second New Zealander after Southee to take a five-wicket haul in T20Is, but the challenge for New Zealand was always to restrict Pollard. Pollard finished with some frenetic hitting, celebrating his fifty with a 100-metre six to the roof off Santner.
The hosts needed quick runs, and when Sheldon Cottrell got Guptill to edge one through to Pooran behind the stumps, West Indies would have fancied their chances of making inroads. However, Pollard's bowlers let themselves down, often going too short and offering width, which allowed the likes of Seifert, Conway and Glenn Phillips to keep New Zealand within sight of the required rate. Oshane Thomas briefly sparked West Indies' hopes, dismissing Seifert and Phillips, who suffered a freak injury when his kneecap popped out as he smacked Allen over long-on for a massive six, and then Ross Taylor ran himself out in his eagerness to get his first runs.
Neesham came out to join Conway, and the two of them set about taking the attack to the West Indies bowlers. Kesrick Williams was singled out for special treatment by the two - Neesham hit the first two balls he faced for four square on either side, and then picked up 20 off the first four balls he delivered for his next over. Paul, too, was guilty of missing his lengths far too often, and the batsmen made the most of Eden Park's angles to keep picking him for boundaries. Eventually, Pollard came on and dismissed Conway, but Paul's erratic bowling came to the fore with New Zealand needing 29 from the last three. He bowled four no-balls in all, the first for overstepping, and then all of the others for high full-tosses, and though there were no boundaries scored, Neesham and Santner kept the score ticking over.
Santner swung two sixes in the last two overs, including one off the last ball delivered by Pollard, to bring up a 1-0 lead for New Zealand in the series.