Before the start of the tri-nation series in the Caribbean, heavyweights Australia and South Africa were expected to trade punches and reach the final. On the other hand, despite entering the tournament in the afterglow of a World Twenty20 triumph, West Indies were the rank outsiders. However, they stitched together a performance of skill and sinew to flatten South Africa by 100 runs in a do-or-die encounter at Bridgetown, Barbados, to progress to the summit clash, where they will lock horns with the World Champions Australia on Sunday (June 26).
At 21 for four, it was West Indies who looked set to be routed. Just in the nick of time, Darren Bravo sculpted an eye-popping century and Kieron Pollard crunched a belligerent fifty to provide the launchpad for the hosts to net in a substantial total. Shannon Gabriel, playing only his second ODI, then ripped through South Africa’s line-up to put the outcome of the game beyond doubt.
West Indies had their share of heart-stopping highs and lows in the round-robin phase. Despite a couple of deflating losses, however, they showed admirable tenacity to bounce back. The West Indies back-room staff will hope that the team can churn out another such collective performance in the final as they hope to win their first multi-nation ODI tournament since 2008.
The likes of Marlon Samuels, Pollard, Bravo and Denesh Ramdin have lit up the tri-series with sparks of individual brilliance to take the Caribbean side out of the treadmill of losses they have been accustomed to in recent times. The West Indies think-tank has also shown the flexibility to ring in the changes when required. To encapsulate the point, for the key clashes against Australia and South Africa at the cathedral of pace bowling, Kensingnton Oval, they picked Gabriel and the move paid off.
Gabriel rocked South Africa with pace and bounce and was rewarded with three scalps. With the final, too, being played at Bridgetown, Jason Holder will expect a similar performance from the tall fast bowler. Sunil Narine and Carlos Brathwaite have been among the wickets, but the former might not find the track at the Kensington Oval to his liking.
Australia also have had a roller-coaster ride to the final, but peaked at the right time to overcome West Indies in a must-win clash at Bridgetown and book a place in the final. Australia would be buoyed by the fact that Glenn Maxwell manufactured a volley of boundaries and found his touch in the pivotal game against the hosts. Mitchell Marsh also played with poise and balance to compose a fifty. In the final, the visitors will look up to Usman Khawaja and Steven Smith to lay the platform for the dashers lower down the order.
Mitchell Starc has been Australia’s go-to-man in the tri-series. Waspish pace, copious swing augmented by the left-armer’s angle makes him a dangerous prospect in the abridged versions of the game. He is one of the few swing bowlers going around in the international circuit, who prefers the white Kookaburra to the red ball. The metronomic, Josh Hazlewood, should also enjoy the extra bounce on offer at the Kensington Oval. Australia’s fielding has surprisingly been a touch below par, but in the big clash, one expects the tourists to lift their game by a few notches.
When: West Indies vs Australia, June 26, 1:00 PM local (10:30 PM IST)
Where: Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados
What to expect: Teams are usually greeted by rock-hard surfaces at Bridgetown. It should make for an even contest between bat and ball. As per the weather forecast, rain is expected to stay away for the duration of the match.
Did you know? Hybrid Bermuda grass is used by the groundsmen, which in turn facilitates the outfield to drain rapidly.
After Samuels belted Adam Zampa for three sixes in St. Kitts, the legspinner has not featured in any of the games at Barbados so far. Zampa, however, has artfully varied his pace and flight to snare nine wickets in the tournament, and might earn a recall for the final. Smith has had an ongoing issue with his thigh, but is set to take part in the summit clash.
Despite West Indies’ captain Holder struggling with a hamstring issue, he is confident of partaking in the match. The home team also would be fretting over the fitness of Gabriel, who injured his leg after bowling five overs against South Africa.
– WI last beat Australia in the final of a tournament way back in 1993. The last time the two teams met in a final was in Champions Trophy 2006 in India, where Australia won by 8 wickets. West Indies last beat Australia in an ODI in Bridgetown way back in April 1999.
– Mitchell Starc needs two more wickets to reach 100 wickets in ODIs in his 51st match – the fastest by any to the landmark.
– Australia have taken 40 wickets in the series at an average of 27.35 and an economy rate of 4.82. The corresponding figures for WI are 37.66 and 5.07.
Who said what?
“I haven’t spoken to Lara for some time now, but last night before I went to bed I looked at some of his clips on YouTube. That’s my boy, that’s my role model, so when I’m struggling I always go back to him,” said Darren Bravo, after compiling a game-changing century against South Africa at the Kensington Oval.
“Probably, on the surface, we lacked a bit of variation [against West Indies], we looked quite samey. But that’s okay. It was good to play the game on that wicket, now it gives us the best opportunity to pick the best XI for the final,” said Justin Langer, Australia’s interim coach, hinting that Zampa might get an opportunity.
West Indies (From): Andre Fletcher, Johnson Charles, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Denesh Ramdin(w), Kieron Pollard, Jason Holder(c), Carlos Brathwaite, Sunil Narine, Sulieman Benn, Jonathan Carter, Shannon Gabriel, Ashley Nurse
Australia (From): Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Steven Smith(c), George Bailey, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade(w), James Faulkner, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Scott Boland, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Travis Head, Nathan Lyon, Adam Zampa