Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
Carlos Brathwaite was dropped for West Indies' last match. There is a good chance he wouldn't have been playing at Old Trafford had Andre Russell not been unfit. It wouldn't have been a particularly harsh decision because Brathwaite had scored only five half-centuries in 158 innings since his sensational four sixes to win West Indies a lost World Twenty20 final back in 2016.
Yet, with the World Cup dream all but over, Brathwaite reignited West Indies' hopes with a scarcely believable century to bring them within five runs of New Zealand's total. He was caught on the boundary trying to clear long-on off the last ball of the 49th over. After the knock, a shattered Brathwaite was honest in saying the knock meant him a lot even if it left him feeling bittersweet.
WATCH on Hotstar (India only) - Brathwaite breathes fire with 101
"It is a cliché to say that it doesn't matter if you don't win, but for me personally, for my confidence, it is a result of all the hard work that I put in," Brathwaite said of his first international century. "It is finally good that it has come to fruition. I continue to work hard. Obviously heartbreaking to not get over the line but I give thanks for the performance and being able to get the team in the position that I was able to."
Brathwaite came in to bat at 142 for 4, and scored 101 of the remaining 144 runs that West Indies managed. With a stunning 25-run assault against Matt Henry in the 48th over, he brought the equation down to eight runs required off the two overs.
"When I lost [Sheldon] Cottrell, then Lockie [Ferguson] had one over to go and [Trent] Boult had one to go," Brathwaite said. "And the thinking was if we see them off, we can get 30 in three overs."
Now the equation was manageable, but he had only the No. 11 Oshane Thomas, who was yet to score a run, for company. Jimmy Neesham, bowling the 49th over, said they wanted Brathwaite to make more decisions now. The final - as it turned out - decision was whether to look for a single last ball of the 49th over or a six. If he got a single, he would have retained strike with five to get in the final over. If he missed while going for a six - or even if he got four - New Zealand would be able to have a crack at Thomas.
As it turned out, Brathwaite went for a six, and was caught a few metres inside the long-on boundary. "I did tell Oshane about it [the possibility of a single]," Brathwaite said. "Told him we remain positive. We are one hit away. Probably memories came back of 2016 when I played a game against Afghanistan [in the 2016 World T20] and patted a full toss for a single instead of hitting it for a six. My thinking was still: watch the ball, still react, and if it is not a ball that I can get a six off, I try to get a single. He was on high alert, but if it came in my area I try and finish the game in that ball, which I did."
Brathwaite came very close, though. "I thought I had enough bat on it," he said. "Unfortunately it didn't. Also it went to probably one of the better fielders in the world as well. So, yeah, it is what is. A game of margins. One or two yards more, we could be victorious."
Brathwaite said it should not be too difficult to move on from the decision he made. "The best dressing rooms create a culture where when you pinpoint any incident, any game, there is [talk around] planning and execution," Brathwaite said. "The plan was right: obviously stay, reacting to the ball, don't premeditate, if it is not in your zone, get single; if it is, maximise and get a six. And the execution was off. In the game against Australia as well, I got out to a slow full toss from Starc, kind of haunted me as well. Again it is execution. Back to the drawing board. Probably get some other options to similar ball. I am not going to beat myself up because the ball should have gone for six, and we should have won."
It was "heartbreaking" that it didn't end West Indies' way, but there was also personal relief. "I know I can [bat well], I know I should," Brathwaite said. "I never stopped working, I kept working hard. It's great to see hard work pay off. At the end of the day it is a century in a losing cause, which is bittersweet."
His captain Jason Holder wasn't surprised he delivered the runs. "His work ethic is really good," Holder said of Brathwaite. "He's not one to shy away from his responsibilities. And he puts in really good effort into his preparation. And that's one thing that I credit him for. The knock that he played today is not surprising to me.
"I guess everybody could sit here and agree that we'd love to see that a little bit more often. But that's the general feeling within the entire group. I think as a team we just need to be a lot more consistent. But seeing Carlos play the way he did doesn't really surprise me. Just a matter for us to bring it together more often."
The feeling of awe was on both sides. New Zealand didn't waste any time in going to congratulate and commiserate with Brathwaite moments after the win was sealed. "New Zealanders are some of the best people in the world to share a dressing room with or to play against," Brathwaite said. "I obviously socialise with them at franchise tournaments and am good friends with a few of the boys. I guess it didn't mean much at that point in time because you are just getting over watching Boult take the catch and losing. In hindsight it was good sportsmanship on their behalf. I appreciate the mutual respect the opposition had."