For long suffering Caribbean cricket fans the roller-coaster ride continues as the Bellr Cup tri-nation series moves into the decisive phase 3 at Kensington Oval in Barbados with South Africa occupying the top spot on the points table with 10, (prior to yesterday’s match) followed by the world champion Aussies on nine points, and hosts West Indies currently in third place with eight points. Each team has won two matches and lost two in the tournament so far with the Proteas sitting on the top spot by virtue of their securing bonus points from West Indies whom they trounced by 139 runs at Basseterre St. Kitts on Wednesday.
Just two days earlier West Indies were literally world beaters when they –as is their wont, won the toss and offered Australia first strike on a different strip on the square at the mostly batter friendly Basseterre venue. In retrospect whether fortuitously or not it was a good call as the Aussies turned in an indifferent batting performance to manage a below par 265 for 7 against a disciplined West Indies attack led by skipper Jason Holder with 2 for 44 from his 10, and Kieron Pollard 2 for 32 from six overs. Mystery spinner Sunil Narine went wicket-less in his 10 over spell which yielded 44 runs and 28 dot balls.
Lefthander Usman Khawaja, opening in place of the injured David Warner, was run out on 98 just short of his maiden One Day International (ODI) century having faced 123 deliveries while his captain Steve Smith got a measured 74 from 95 balls. George Bailey injected some late spark into the innings with 55 off 56 balls until he was dismissed in the 49th over, yet uncharacteristically only 69 runs came from their last nine overs.
In hot pursuit of a modest target the West Indies opening pair of Johnson Charles and Andre Fletcher batted well but capitalized on a couple of fielding lapses to set the stage with 74 runs from the first 10 overs. Fletcher was first to go for 27 from as many deliveries in support of Charles who appeared to be in reasonably good nick with his 48 off 38 balls.
For the Aussies Mitchell Starc had the day off but Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Coulter-Nile, and James Faulkner were on duty but seemed to pose no major problems for a patient
Darren Bravo – 39 from 63 balls, who was the perfect foil for an imperious Marlon Samuels who gathered 92 runs from 87 balls with strokes of the highest quality including eight fours and four sixes, three in succession off right arm leg spinner Adam Zampa before he was senselessly run out. Following that dismissal and a few anxious moments, Pollard and Carlos Brathwaite saw the team home at 266 for 6 with 26 balls to spare.
On Wednesday it was a horse of a different colour and one with considerably less power for the volatile home team as the decision makers dusted off the old master plan – ‘win the toss, put the opposition in, restrict them to par or a shade over par score, and chase with confidence under the lights. On this occasion the South Africans gaining in confidence as the tournament progresses took advantage of a flawed decision by the Windies management team and made the best use of a perfect batting strip to mount a formidable score of 343 for 4 led by a command performance from opener Hashim Amla who provided the overture with a batting clinic that produced 110 runs off 99 balls. Fellow opener Quintin De Kock with 71 and Faf Du Plessis, 73 off 50 balls, paled by comparison but put the hapless West Indies bowlers to the sword nonetheless. And when it was all said and done the South Africans had plundered the Windies for 28 fours and seven sixes.
Despite another good start by the opening pair of Charles who top scored with 49 and Fletcher 21 to the tune of 69 runs off nine overs, the remainder of the batting card wilted under the imposing scoreboard pressure and succumbed meekly for 204 from just 38 overs to the guile of the excitable elder statesman right arm leg spinner Imran Tahir who gathered a career best 7 for 45 from 9 overs, while his understudy unorthodox lefty wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi chipped in with 2 for 41.
Fundamental changes ought to be made in the West Indies line up as they seek to emerge from the cellar and survive against two formidable teams, South Africa who seem to be getting better with every match, and Australia who will undoubtedly relish the harder, faster track at Kensington Oval come June 19th. For their critical match against the Aussies tomorrow, the West Indies ought to bolster their batting card with the addition of Lendl Simmons at number three if he is healthy and available; also if healthy and available right arm leg-spinner Samuel Badree should replace Sulieman Benn. Pollard should be called on for a full quota of 10 overs.
In batting order the team should read: Johnson Charles, Andre Fletcher, Lendl Simmons, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Kieron Pollard, Denesh Ramdin, Jason Holder, Carlos Brathwaite, Sunil Narine and Samuel Badree. And the West Indies should be under no illusions about chasing targets regardless of the batting conditions.