Astle the Hero in Narrow Win

Nathan Astle played a starring role both with the bat and in the field as New Zealand scored a narrow win over a gallant West Indies side who once again found themselves in a winning position but failed to finish off the match. Astle’s century was the main reason for the New Zealand total reaching 276 after yet another largely disappointing performance, and his memorable catch to dismiss Dwayne Smith was a highlight in an inconsistent performance in the field but one that did enough things well to earn a 21-run victory and an unassailable 3-0 lead in the 5-match series.

After recent success at the ground, particularly against Australia last December, in chasing totals, it came as a slight surprise when Stephen Fleming elected to bat after winning the toss. And, after a brief display of powerful hitting from opener Lou Vincent, the decision didn’t appear to be an entirely good one as New Zealand were struggling at 87-4 in the 21st over. The dismissed batsmen were Vincent for 25, Fleming after a battling 59-minute 15 which showed all too clearly his lack of form, Scott Styris for just 1 and Peter Fulton for 21, a promising start but one from which he failed to go on. Ian Bradshaw, who was hit for plenty of runs early on by Vincent, bounced back to take the first 3 wickets to fall, finishing with figures of 3-41.

The crucial partnership came when Hamish Marshall joined Astle, who had had a very small share of the strike since coming to the wicket. Marshall was in need of a good score, having been left out of the team at Queenstown and been in danger of being dropped from the team altogether for much of the last year. But he chose a good day to rediscover something that resembled his best form, hitting 43 from 54 balls in a 99 run partnership with Astle before he went for a big hit down the ground and was comfortably caught off by Daren Ganga off the bowling of his batting opening partner Chris Gayle.

But that was the last joy Gayle was to have in the innings, as Astle, who had patiently worked his way through his innings hitting boundaries surprisingly rarely, returned to his old style of batting soon after bringing up his 16th ODI century. After getting two considerable cheers from his home crowd, one for a leg-bye on 99 and one for his next single, he brought them to their feet with three successive sixes off Gayle from the last three balls of the 50th over to take the score through to 276-6 after it had just a few overs earlier looked like 250 would be what they’d have to settle for on a good batting pitch. Brendon McCullum, on whom New Zealand supporters were putting all their hope for reaching a score of 270 or more, was out run out for the second match in succession, being beaten by a ball and looking to take a bye, only to see that Ramdin had the ball. He threw down the stumps, and a diving McCullum was found well short of his ground. Astle was the man who should receive all of the thanks for New Zealand reaching a defendable total, considering the number of players who had got a start and failed to go on, or failed even to get a start.

For the third time in the series, the West Indies innings started badly. Ganga was brought to his knees by a superb yorker from Shane Bond that damaged Ganga’s pride and his stumps. But then Gayle, who had been far from himself with the bat in the series to date, and Runako Morton took to the bowling, an aggressive approach not seen in Wellington or Queenstown. In just over seven overs the two put on 56, Gayle hitting six fours and two sixes in his 38 off 23 balls before being finally dismissed by Michael Mason. After hitting the sixes off two consecutive balls, he miscued a slightly slower delivery next ball and was comfortably caught by Daniel Vettori.

That didn’t stop Morton though, who kept going and brought up his half-century from just 52 balls. But then he, like Gayle, was fooled by a change of pace and enticed into an aggressive stroke by the mounting pressure from the tight bowling of Vettori, and he was caught by Franklin. Just three balls later in the same over, his partner for the last 12 overs, Denesh Ramdin, followed. Ramdin had played very well and shown considerable ability after being promoted in the order to number four, scoring 28 from 35 balls. But then two brilliant deliveries from Vettori put an end to his innings. The first beat him outside the off stump, and the second pitched in line and straightened, hitting him plumb in front. With that, 127-2 had become 128-4.

Ramdin’s was plumb, but plumb could not be used to describe the next dismissal. Shivnarine Chanderpaul was hit in the pad by Bond, a ball that was certainly going on to hit the stumps, but there was considerable doubt as to whether or not it pitched outside off stump. Rudi Koetzen didn’t think so, and Chanderpaul was out, a huge wicket, for just 4.

Jeetan Patel just keeps improving, and keeps impressing everyone with his performances in ODI cricket. He bowled with excellent control, variation and most surprisingly turn on a pitch which is not traditionally conducive to spin bowling. He beat Wavell Hinds, who came out to replace Chanderpaul, with a magnificent ball. Hinds advanced down the wicket, the pressure getting to him, and missed completely, McCullum making no mistake in removing the bails.

Dwayne Smith is always a dangerous player, this situation, with a large number of runs required in a short period of time, is made for a player of his powerful hitting ability. But today was not his day, as his innings was the one which was brilliantly ended by Astle. Having hit a ball cleanly that looked to be comfortably clearing the boundary, he could only watch in disbelief as Astle, who was standing on the very edge of the boundary, leapt in the air to take the ball in one hand before making sure he landed with his feet inside the rope. The catch was easily the best of the New Zealand summer, as the ball was past him and beyond the boundary when he stuck his hand out, having spent a seemingly impossible length of time in the air, and took it cleanly.

When Rawl Lewis, who had come in as a supersub to boost the batting, fell to another superb ball from Patel the West Indies seemed out of it altogether at 173-8, a hugely disappointing situation considering the speed at which they had been scoring without the loss of many wickets early in the innings, at one point 127-2 after just 20 overs. But it was Vettori’s over, the 21st, that turned the match in New Zealand’s favour.

But that wasn’t to be the last momentum shift. Ramnaresh Sarwan, who had started cautiously to say the least, started to speed up and show his considerable ability to the New Zealand audience, and he was ably supported by Ian Bradshaw, who unforgettably starred with the bat in the ICC Champions Trophy final victory of 2004. Today he beat that highest score of 34 not out, smashing 37 from just 34 balls with three sixes, including two in a row off Vettori. That particular over was damaging to Vettori’s figures, taking them from 2-17 from 8 to 2-40 from 10. With 246-8 on the board and 31 required from the last 18, the visitors seemed, amazingly, in with a strong chance of victory. Michael Mason, who had been expensive earlier in the evening, was given the job of bowling the 48th over. He did it brilliantly. In it he conceded just four runs, and provided the desperately needed breakthrough to remove Bradshaw, well caught at long-off by Vincent.

After that, although still possible, victory seemed just out of reach of the West Indies, and the match was brought to an end when Sarwan, who had brought them so close, was out in the same way as Bradshaw, hitting the ball straight to Vincent at long-off to give Bond his third wicket.

It was good to see the West Indies finally showing some of their true ability with the bat on this tour, particularly Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan, both of whom had been disappointing until tonight. New Zealand on the other hand still have troubles with the top order, troubles that have been there since the reshuffle following the excellent top order effort in Wellington. With the series now decided, it is impossible to predict what could happen in the strange and seemingly inexplicable rotation system employed by the New Zealand side in the remaining two matches in Napier and Auckland.

The West Indies, although now out of the series, are improving with every game and should be very proud of the effort today. New Zealand are yet to put on a truly impressive display in this series, with the possible exception of Wellington. Nathan Astle though showed why he should be a permanent inclusion in the ODI team until his retirement.

New Zealand 276-6
Nathan Astle 118 no, Hamish Marshall 43
Ian Bradshaw 3-41, Dwayne Smith 1-33

New Zealand won by 21 runs

West Indies 255
Ramnaresh Sarwan 65, Runako Morton 58
Shane Bond 3-47, Jeetan Patel 3-42

Cricket Web Player of the Match
Nathan Astle – 118 not out, stunning catch.

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