West Indies 266 for 6 (Samuels 92, Charles 48) beat Australia 265 for 7 (Khawaja 98, Smith 74) by four wickets.
A rollicking opening stand and a Marlon Samuels special lifted West Indies to their second victory of the triangular series over an uncharacteristically sloppy Australian side in St Kitts.
From a strong platform of 139 for 1 after 27 overs the visitors’ innings lost momentum, and the target of 266 was vulnerable to an early assault on the short boundaries of Warner Park. Johnson Charles and Andre Fletcher duly hurled themselves at a bowling attack that was missing Mitchell Starc, and were helped by a pair of dropped catches from Usman Khawaja.
Those misses helped take West Indies to an opening stand of 74 inside 10 overs, and that early acceleration allowed Samuels to sculpt an innings in his familiar style – long periods of inactivity mixed with brief bursts of power and inspiration. Darren Bravo and Denesh Ramdin offered support, and a wobble arrived too late to save Australia from defeat.
Khawaja had taken advantage of a promotion to the top of the order to help guide Australia’s innings, but he fell short of what would have been his maiden ODI century. Bogged down in the 90s, he was ultimately run out when chasing a third run for his partner George Bailey.
Steven Smith, the captain, forged 74 without always looking in complete control of his game or the conditions, before Bailey played sensibly to push the visitors beyond 260. Jason Holder bowled an exemplary spell for West Indies, having started on the best possible note by surprising Aaron Finch with bounce and having him taken at slip for a duck in the first over of the match. Sunil Narine was also economical, while Carlos Brathwaite and Kieron Pollard claimed two wickets each.
Fletcher and Charles clearly had boundaries on their minds when they walked out to start the pursuit, helped by the fact there was no Starc to contend with, for reasons of rest. Nine times the rope was reached or cleared in the first seven overs, and from there the required rate was never likely to drift beyond six runs per over.
After Khawaja’s misses – he dropped Fletcher and Charles within the first eight overs – James Faulkner contributed an excellent cutter to deceive Fletcher, and Adam Zampa struck in his first over with a skidding delivery that pinned Charles in front of middle stump. However, their early work gave Samuels and Bravo time to get established, while Smith was unable to pressure the scoreboard through his bowlers.
The boundaries briefly slowed to a trickle, but neither batsman lost his composure, and the target had been whittled down to 99 from 115 balls by the time Bravo was claimed by Zampa with a bouncing legbreak that touched glove and pad before looping up for Matthew Wade.
Ramdin kept Samuels company as the equation shrank further, and it was left to the senior batsman to put the result more or less beyond doubt with a trio of sixes off Zampa in the 41st over. The first of these was almost caught by the debutant Travis Head, who did take the ball cleanly but was thrown off balance by the proximity of the rope and was unable to hurl the ball in for a successful juggle. The next two cleared him comfortably.
Samuels would not be Samuels without moments to counterbalance the brilliance, and a languid single in the same over ended his innings when Wade scampered around and fired a dead-eye throw at the non-striker’s stumps. Nathan Coulter-Nile found a way through Ramdin and coaxed the thinnest of edges from Holder to keep the crowd on tenterhooks, but Pollard and Brathwaite kept their heads to collect victory with more than four overs remaining.
Having lost David Warner for the rest of the tournament due to a broken finger, the Australians gave an ODI debut to the left-hander Head, who had his cap handed to him by Damien Martyn. Head’s inclusion as a middle-order batsman who also bowls offspin was a pointed message to the out-of-sorts Glenn Maxwell, who was dropped before Australia’s previous match, a victory over South Africa.
That result had been built upon strong batting in the afternoon, and Smith had similar visions when he walked out to the middle. Somewhat surprisingly Holder sent the Australians in when he won the toss, but he was all smiles after getting Finch with sharp bounce and subtle away movement.
Smith and Khawaja were both struck on the splice of the bat by prancing early deliveries from Holder and Jerome Taylor, but they were then able to steadily build a platform that, by 24 overs, had taken on the dimensions of 103 for 1. At that point Smith and Khawaja chose to accelerate, and in the next three overs they piled on 36.
West Indies’ anxiety had risen quickly, but Holder was able to settle it with a miserly spell, conceding only 13 from three overs when the batsmen were looking to attack. The reward came indirectly when Holder brought on Brathwaite, who was the beneficiary when Smith charged wildly at his first ball and skied a return catch.
A period of further stagnation followed, a previously fluent Khawaja mired in the 90s and Bailey trying to get started. Ultimately Khawaja was unable to reach three figures, and there may be some examination of his running between the wickets after he failed to make a third run from Bailey’s reverse sweep to third man.
Mitchell Marsh came into bat before Head, and he was able to add 49 with Bailey in six overs before skying Brathwaite to mid-off. Bailey’s innings was replete with typical good sense and the occasional hefty blow, meaning Australia did not totally squander their earlier platform. Australia seemed content with 265, but they reckoned without the pyrotechnics of Fletcher and Charles, and the skilled insouciance of Samuels.