At Bridgetown, Barbados, June 26-30, 2014. New Zealand won by 53 runs. Toss: New Zealand. Test debut: J. O. Holder.
The deciding Test provided a contest of riveting twists and turns. New Zealand prevailed, principally because they pursued their ambition of an overdue triumph in an overseas series with more intensity and confidence than West Indies could muster. McCullum's assertive leadership was a key factor: "Anyone keen on captaincy should be watching Brendon McCullum today," tweeted former England captain Michael Vaughan as New Zealand neared their goal.
Batting first after winning the toss for the third time, New Zealand were initially threatened with a crisis similar to Trinidad. They slumped to 194 for seven, but Neesham and Craig pulled them to 293. At 169 for two in response, West Indies were rattling along, before the first significant rainfall in three months ended the second day shortly after lunch.
On resumption, they moved to 197, before eight fell for 120, leaving them a negligible lead. Then New Zealand dipped to 135 for four early on the fourth morning. The match was in the balance - but it swung steadily back their way, thanks to Williamson's second high-quality hundred of the series, and partnerships with Neesham and Watling that together yielded 170.
McCullum spotted West Indies' vulnerability, and his overnight declaration - daring them to go after 308 on a decent pitch at less than 3.5 an over - was more conviction than gamble. Shrewd bowling changes and field-settings undermined the top order; only a couple of brief rainbreaks and an eighth-wicket stand of 77 between the debutant Jason Holder and Shillingford kept New Zealand waiting until late in the final session.
Each team had made changes to boost their bowling, but Wagner's inclusion for Ish Sodhi benefited New Zealand more than the return of Shillingford and the inclusion of Holder for West Indies. Wagner's four first-innings wickets were significant, while Shillingford toiled for 31 overs without success. Holder, the towering local seamer, was strangely limited to ten in each innings.
New Zealand had struggled against Roach's controlled pace and the bounce of Benn's left-arm spin on the opening day. After Rutherford fell cheaply again, and Latham failed for the first time, Williamson and Taylor battled through to lunch, extended by half an hour as the caterers were late delivering the food. They fell within three overs of each other on resumption. In spite of McCullum's 31, his highest score of the series, the innings continued to unravel until Neesham and Craig added 64 for the eighth wicket. Nothing seemed more certain than another Neesham hundred, before indecision over a single left him inches short after Brathwaite's return to bowler Shillingford.
West Indies were strongly placed before rain intervened on the second day, as the top three pressed on at four an over. The ten fours in Brathwaite's 68 reflected the confidence gained from his maiden hundred ten days earlier, but shortly before lunch - with the clouds gathering - he drove Wagner's slower ball low to extra cover.
On the third day, the tempo changed as markedly as the weather. Led by the probing control of left-armer Wagner from around the wicket, New Zealand tested the patience of batsmen happier banging boundaries. Ramdin and Holder avoided a rout by putting on 36, but the last three fell for four, limiting West Indies' lead to 24.
The final session provided another twist. New Zealand were three down for 68 in the 19th over. Had Williamson not been missed on ten and 42 by Ramdin - whose keeping had been below its usual standard throughout the series - they would have been under even more pressure. Ramdin was flat-footed as an edge off Roach passed between him and Gayle at first slip, then he missed a tough leg-side stumping off Shillingford. Williamson
barely made another error as he moved to his seventh, and then highest, Test hundred next day; in all he batted for 381 minutes and hit 22 fours.
Neesham - who lashed four sixes - helped send the lead beyond 200, before Watling became Roach's 100th wicket. And, when New Zealand's batsmen walked off with a lead of 307 under the floodlights as the evening darkened, the question was, when would McCullum declare? In fact, he had already made up his mind.
His judgment was confirmed within ten overs next morning, as Brathwaite, Edwards and Gayle, all tentative, were swept aside by the new ball. Until Holder and Shillingford saved some face, resistance was intermittent and brief. West Indies' state of mind was exemplified by the habitually creasebound Chanderpaul's sudden charge at Craig's flighted off-spin; for the first time in 266 Test innings, he was stumped. After that, it was only a
matter of time.
Man of the Match: K. S. Williamson. Man of the Series: K. S. Williamson.