New Zealand 220 for 5 (Marshall 75*) beat West Indies 216 (Lara 58, Sarwan 54, Cairns 3-29) by five wickets
For the fourth completed match in a row in this year's NatWest Series, the side batting second coasted to a simple victory after rolling their opposition over for a sub-standard total. For once, however, a spicy pitch could not be cited as a contributory factor. West Indies made a promising start to the match, but had no-one to blame but themselves after a kamikaze ten-over spell towards the end of their innings, in which they lost seven wickets for 36 runs. After that, Hamish Marshall barely needed to break sweat, as he anchored New Zealand to a five-wicket victory, and a place in next weekend's final.
Marshall's unbeaten 75 came from a stately 121 balls, with just three fours. Needing a mere 217 for victory, he and Stephen Fleming (45) broke the back of the run-chase with a 72-run stand for the second wicket, a period of play which was notable for the wholehearted but erratic efforts of Tino Best. Despite the constant reassurances from his captain, he flung down a succession of rank leg-side wides, most of which flew away for four. On a slow, dry pitch, the two Dwaynes - Smith and, especially, Bravo - caused a flicker of interest with a tight spell of medium-pace bowling, but ultimately West Indies had too little in the bank to defend, and duly succumbed with four overs to spare.
Earlier in the day it had all looked quite promising for West Indies. Brian Lara launched their innings with gusto, and Ramnaresh Sarwan anchored it with aplomb, as they laid the platform for a competitive total. But, triggered by another guileful bowling performance from Chris Cairns, and spurred on by an incisive spell from Ian Butler, West Indies collapsed in a familiar heap, their embarrassment capped by a pair of playground run-outs.
At first, it had been all about Lara. He has spent the past few months yo-yoing up and down the West Indian one-day batting order, but today he decided it was time to lead from the front. The usually flamboyant Chris Gayle trailed in his wake as Lara produced a mini-masterclass in the art of timing and placement. Fleming was left to chase shadows as he picked the gaps in the field at will and rattled along to a run-a-ball 58.
But Cairns had the last word, with a classic one-two. After bowling within himself for much of his spell, he surprised Lara with a fizzing bouncer that brushed his chest as he swayed out of line, then followed up with another of his masterful slower balls. Lara was through the shot too soon, and Fleming at mid-off dived long and low to scoop a vital catch (83 for 1).
It was an important wicket in more ways than one. At the other end, Gayle, whose only indulgences had been consecutive fours from the wayward James Franklin, had been set to cut loose after his cautious start. He pulled a Cairns bouncer for an emphatic four through midwicket, but in the same over, he swished a loose cut shot, and Gareth Hopkins claimed a simple catch behind the stumps (92 for 2).
The memory of West Indies's capitulation against England was fresh in everyone's minds as Sarwan was joined by Shivnarine Chanderpaul, but together the pair postponed such thoughts with a level-headed 40-run partnership. Sarwan livened up the crowd with a vast straight six that nearly landed in the river Taff, but with Butler's extra pace keeping everyone on their toes, there was little room for liberties.
Chanderpaul eventually nicked an attempted drive through to Hopkins to give Butler his first wicket, and Butler later struck again when Ricardo Powell inside-edged a slog onto his front pad, to lob a simple chance back to the bowler. In between whiles, Scott Styris removed a subdued Dwayne Bravo for a scratchy 15, but the big blow came nine runs later, when Sarwan misread a straight delivery from Cairns and chipped a nine-iron to Fleming at mid-on (199 for 6).
After that, West Indies completely lost their way. Carlton Baugh, called into the side when Ridley Jacobs sustained a calf injury, swished Franklin to Hopkins as he leapt to his right, before Ian Bradshaw and Dwayne Smith found themselves at the same end in a mix-up of their already lamentable running.
Though Bradshaw was the one to sacrifice his wicket, he needn't have bothered. One over later, Smith dawdled through for a single and was run out by Fleming's direct hit from mid-off, and Butler finished off the job with a perfect yorker to splatter Jermaine Lawson's stumps.
If West Indies' running had been poor, then much of their fielding lived up to the precedent. Craig McMillan managed not only to survive a dead-cert run-out, but also to scamper through for overthrows as Lara failed to back-up at the non-striker's end, and though Lara soon made amends with a remarkable one-handed pluck in the covers, it was a fleeting glimpse of West Indian commitment. Bravo, with 3 for 36, finished as the pick of the bowlers, but appropriately enough, it was Cairns who sealed victory, smacking his first and only delivery for a one-bounce four over midwicket.