For Trinidad & Tobago and West Indies pacer Shannon Gabriel playing in only his second One Day International it was ‘D’ Day at Kensington Oval in Barbados on Friday as West Indies took on South Africa to secure a place in the final of the Bellr Tri-Nation tournament where they will face world champions Australia today.
And fittingly at the storied sward where stands bear the names of fast bowling legends Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, and the ends are named after Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner, Gabriel on this day fit snugly into the pantheon as he produced a fiery spell that destroyed South Africa’s bulwark, dismissing De Kock, Du Plessis, and De Villers to propel the Windies into the final.
Gabriel nursing a sore groin finished his impressive spell prematurely with five overs, one maiden 17 runs and three wickets to leave the Proteas tottering at 28 for 3 from which they never recovered. On that sweltering Barbados night it was not the scoreboard pressure of chasing West Indies 285 all out but pace like fire that broke the back of the chase as they fell for 185 in 46 overs, 50 of which came from the 10th wicket partnership between Morne Morkel 32 not out and Imran Tahir 29 as the homesters out-cricket sank into sloppiness when the match was all but done and dusted.
Although the 2016 carnival is long gone, on June 24th it seemed as though it was bacchanal in Barbados as all the Trinis came to the party led by the stylish left-hander Darren Bravo who fashioned a typically classy innings of 102 off 103 balls and a new and improved Kieron Pollard who played an accomplished knock of 62 from 71 deliveries with seven fours and two sixes as they came together for a partnership of 156 that rescued West Indies from the brink of total collapse at 21 for 4 precipitated by a venomous spell by 21 year old pacer Kagiso Rabada who dismissed opener Johnson Charles for four and in form Marlon Samuels for nought with successive deliveries, and then yorked Denesh Ramdin for four after hitting him in the helmet in his next over.
Like alchemists Bravo and his countryman Pollard transformed pressure into adrenaline as they batted unruffled putting together a record partnership at a brisk rate that steered West Indies to respectability at 177 for 5 in the 30th over. Rabada, just two years removed from the Under 19 World Cup tournament in Dubai in 2014, now the leading South African pacer finished with 3 for 31 and said in a post-match interview that in retrospect he should not have been taken off after his initial devastating spell which briefly vindicated Proteas skipper AB De Villers decision to give West Indies first strike on a good cricket pitch that offered bounce to pacers but was also good for batting.
And one got a sense that this was going to be the West Indies day when captain Jason Holder, who was questionable for this vital tussle with South Africa with a strained hamstring sustained in the loss just two days before in the match against Australia, declared himself fit for the game. The willowy 6’ 7” Barbadian, who in my view stands out as the crown jewel in ousted convenor of selectors former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd’s legacy, having been hand-picked by him for leadership, after a sub-par tournament, proceeded to turn in a stellar all-round performance in the game. Holder batted with patience and panache, scoring an invaluable 40 from 46 balls with three fours and two sixes, opened the bowling with 10 overs on the trot claiming 1 for 33, and led the team with imagination and insight.
Despite their convincing win over South Africa however, and a new found never-say-die attitude that saw them recovering from 31 for 3 to reach 282 for 8 against the Aussies, and from 21 for 4 to 285 all out against the Proteas, the regional team still seeks that elusive element of consistency and are yet to bring to bear all of the facets of their game plan on game day.
To defeat the hardnosed world champions today, West Indies must execute every phase of their ‘A’ game flawlessly from blunting the incisiveness and potency of quickie Mitchell Starc’s initial spell, to miserly death bowling in the end, to capitalizing on every run out chance in the field, to rotating the strike in the middle. With regards to personnel choices, in my view Andre Fletcher, after his run of poor form, should have been long since replaced by Lendl Simmons. And with right arm spinner Sunil Narine getting his groove back with a guileful 3 for 28 against South Africa after going wicket-less in his last three games, Sulieman Benn, with his benign left arm leg breaks should have become expendable and replaced by Samuel Badree or someone of that ilk.
To my mind Jonathan Carter and Ashley Nurse are flawed selections in the original squad and now offer no attractive choices for today’s final 11. And one would hope that Benn, who lacks variety and variation in his offerings and has proven to be no more than a filler – there to contribute his 10 overs, is enjoying his final tournament in West Indies colors.