Ireland put the world in the cup as the obliging West Indies sleepwalked to an embarrassing – does it embarrass them anymore, though? – defeat during which only Darren Sammy and Lendl Simmons seemed awake in rescuing them from 87 for 5. The West Indies bowling was as flat as their top order as the adventurous Paul Stirling, smooth Ed Joyce and nerveless Niall O’Brien coasted to the target of 305 efficiently and without any anxiety despite a late wobble that came too late. Fittingly the most compelling story played itself out in Nelson, whose population is 45000 and whose cricket ground, the Saxton Oval, holds a maximum of 6000.
There was immense joy as Ireland’s discipline and nous stood in a two-finger salute to the administrators’ plans to keep them and other smaller cricket teams out of the World Cup. There was grief too as West Indies showed for the most of the match a lack of application, fight and cricketing smarts. It was almost as if they had a long night out in Nelson but forgot to invite Sammy and Simmons. Only rarely do two men win matches against teams that maximise their resources as Ireland do.
It doesn’t matter that Sammy posted the highest score by a No. 7 in World Cups – 89 off 67, it doesn’t matter that the 218 their lower half added was the second-highest in ODI history, it doesn’t matter that Simmons accelerated from 26 off 44 to 102 off 84. What mattered was that this was a flat pitch with boundaries hard to defend, and that they didn’t have the bowling to defend. Stirling and Joyce showed them how to do it, letting at no point in the chase the asking rate go beyond 6.64. This was no upset; there were 25 balls to spare when the match finished. This was a clinical defeat of a team that could not look less interested even if it tried.
The Ireland attack is made up of quicks who bowl in the mid-120s and spinners who don’t turn the ball. They rely on accuracy and tenacity and clever changes of pace. West Indies have some of the biggest hitters going around who make millions through Twenty20 freelance. This was a small ground. Ireland’s industrious scrappers could have come unstuck at any point of time, but by the time that happened West Indies had decisively dug themselves a hole too big through woeful shots and attitude.
Take a look at the replays from the umpire’s point of view during West Indies’ first innings. None of their non-strikers backed up. They avoided singles with the faithfulness of committed men. And then take a look at the wickets. Only two fielders are allowed outside the circle in the first 10 overs. When one of them is at long-on, it takes some special skill and thinking to hit a catch down his throat. You’d venture a batsman with such skill and thinking won’t be averaging more than 20; Dwayne Smith averages 19 and scored 18 here. Later in that over, Darren Bravo, possibly the worst runner going around in international cricket, took some time taking his eye patch off and registered the first diamond duck of this World Cup.
Chris Gayle played his slowest innings against a non-Test-playing nation, 36 off 65, before holing out to deep midwicket. When Marlon Samuels was caught plumb later in the same over, he proceeded to display self-indulgence by wasting a review. Denesh Ramdin went on to sweep without getting outside the line and missed. There would have been a lesson in there for Samuels had Ramdin actually got outside the line and missed out on the review, but West Indies until then were too woeful for that.
There was redemption in the air for Ireland spinners. Andy McBrine, the offpsinner chosen ahead of Craig Young and Alex Cusack, known better for his 24-run over in their rout by Netherlands in the World Twenty20, turned the screws on. He began with a maiden to Gayle before running Bravo out. George Dockrell, the other spinner who was bowled for only three overs in Ireland’s defeat to West Indies in the last World Cup, then handcuffed the other big hitters and took the three wickets in the middle overs.
The last of the wickets brought Simmons and Sammy together in the 24th over. The pair batted sensibly for their 154-run stand in 21.1 overs. Sammy reiterated what a grave mistake it was to strip the ODI captaincy of him. West Indies took 167 off the last 15 overs, but the telling comment was made by the centurion Simmons in a spot interview. He said they would have ideally wanted 340 on this surface.
The words rang true from the time William Porterfield and Stirling began to hit boundaries early in the chase. Stirling wore one on the head early in the piece, but hooked the next bouncer for a six. There was emphasis on bowling short, and there was limited success enjoyed by West Indies with that. However, the wicket of Porterfield fell to Gayle’s part-time offspin. That hardly broke the momentum as Joyce and Stirling flowed smoothly. Stirling took the odd risk, but Joyce hardly made a mistake.
There was a ruthlessness to how the two went about the chase. There had been a relatively quiet phase when Kemar Roach came back to bowl the 23rd over. The asking rate was at its highest at this point, but Roach’s three overs earlier had gone for 26. Stirling just took him on. The first ball he slogged over midwicket for six. The third he pulled for four. The pressure had dissipated. In the next over Joyce went after Sammy, hitting him for three fours. West Indies went back to Jerome Taylor in the next over, and Stirling hit him out of the attack too, taking 18 off the over.
The ask was now down to less than a run a ball, and now the only question was if there would be an icing with centuries to both. They weren’t to be. Stirling fell eight short, Joyce 16, but ever the scrapper, Niall O’Brien made sure there were no major stutters with an unbeaten 79 off 60. The biggest icing, though, was that of the five successful chases of 300 in all World Cups, three have been delivered by Ireland, two of them against Test nations. Still want to keep them out?