IT had everything except the perfect ending.
The ICC World Cup match between the West Indies and Australia featured aggressive bowling, superb catching, and both dogged defence and superb strokeplay by the batsmen, but the Windies fell short and gifted the victory to their more determined opponents.
“We just kept hanging in there,’’ said Aussie captain Aaron Finch in the post-match interview, while opposing skipper Jason Holder was left to rue not applying the finishing touches when the win was there for the taking.
Played last Thursday at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, where they still speak with reverence of Sir Garfield Sobers who played county cricket for Nottinghamshire in the 1960s and ’70s, the home fans came out to support Sobers’ compatriots in the encounter with England’s arch-rivals, many of them wearing West Indies jerseys.
And there were long stretches when a West Indian triumph looked a distinct possibility, from the time Oshane Thomas sent down the first good, short-pitched ball at the Australian openers and the DJ played Kees Dieffenthaller’s “Savannah Grass”, it felt just like being back home, despite the brisk, cold breeze that blew for most of the day.
The sun was out, though, and everyone was looking on the “bright side of life”, in keeping with the classic Monty Python song. It was only Steve Smith—the disgraced former Australia captain who resigned in tears after they were caught doctoring the ball with sandpaper in a Test match against South Africa—who brought out the dark side of the supporters, “boos” ringing out around the ground when he came in to bat.
That was just after two Australians arrived and sat behind Row Q, one exclaiming: “Oh lovely, Steven,” as the batsman cut the ball down to the fielder on the boundary. He had many more occasions to laud Smith, who dug in while most of his teammates fell to the hostile Windies attack, which first struck when a guy in some sort of costume at the Radcliffe Road End started shouting: “Come on West Indies, come on West Indies.”
And that was how the banter went throughout the day, as the game ebbed and flowed for either side. In the row in front, two Englishmen in Windies colours and their mates, one of them sporting a Barmy Army polo shirt, which is the nickname for England’s travelling supporters, got stuck into Aussie Marcus Stoinis when he was being a bit too defensive.
“Get on with it Stoinis, you got money on a draw?!” yelled the bald Englishman/Windies supporter.
So when a television cameraman walked up to the back of the stand, the Aussie behind couldn’t help but tell him: “Make sure you get the ‘West Indians’ there,” pointing two rows down.
And at the next break between overs, he draped his Australian flag over the fellas in front and joked: “Feel the love.”
That was when Machel Montano and company’s “Famalay” came over the PA and another Australian wicket soon went down. And right after, there was the distinct sound of tassa on the other side of the ground, just as the breeze got colder and the clouds got lower and darker, with a single raindrop getting no follow-up from on high.
“Lay off the pints, 42,” the Aussie in Row R shouted in the direction of the burly Thomas who never got close to a high chance off the bowling of Andre Russell.
Then when Smith got to his half-century, the Barmy Army members pulled out pieces of yellow sandpaper and waved them in the air. By that time the Aussie behind was chatting up the two West Indian girls sitting next to him, one with Grenada on her jersey.
And there was a big cheer all around for “Universe Boss” Chris Gayle, who doesn’t exert himself too much on the field, as he chased down a ball, tipping his cap to the crowd in return.
Just when there was a little lapse in the action, Smith was gone, thanks to a piece of pure brilliance by Sheldon Cottrell, who completed what will be a contender for the catch of the tournament, right in front of us in the Bridgford Road Stand. It was so good even the Aussie behind had to admire it as Smith left the middle to more boos.
With Alex Carey and especially Nathan Coulter-Nile, Smith had revived Australia’s innings and the three showed why you can never count them out, such is their resilience, with their running between the wickets being a strong feature in what turned out to be a formidable total.
And although the umpires tried and tried again to get rid of Gayle early in the Windies’ reply—former West Indies fast bowling great now analyst Michael Holding said “the umpiring in this game has been atrocious”, accusing the umpires of being intimidated by the Australians’ excessive appealing—the rest of the batsmen should have been able to see them home.
Pacer Mitchell Starc, player of the tournament four years ago when Australia lifted the World Cup, and fellow-quick Pat Cummins were bowling at sustained speed and were not easy to dispatch, but too many of the Windies batsmen gave away their wickets rather than making their opponents work for them.
There was a time when Shai Hope and Nicholas Pooran were at the crease that some of us might have gotten a bit carried away thinking that they alone could take us past the target, such was their fine strokeplay, Pooran hitting a drive that was pure perfection.
Both of them, then Shimron Hetmeyer, who ran himself out, Holder, Russell and Carlos Brathwaite succumbed rather meekly and all visions of making the Aussies in Row R eat their words came to naught.