Carlos Brathwaite crumbled to his knees, devastated that his last big shot to finish off one of the most unlikely comebacks in Cricket World Cup history on Saturday was not 2m wider or higher.
Nobody really gave him a chance of getting so close, but after scoring 101 from 81 deliveries before the final ball, working with three tail-end batters to add 122 runs, he got the West Indies into a scenario where they needed six runs off seven deliveries for victory over unbeaten New Zealand.
The 30-year-old all-rounder clobbered 25 runs off the 48th over from Matt Henry, including sixes on three consecutive balls, then could not add another run on the first three balls of the next over — the next-to-last of the scheduled 50 overs — from Jimmy Neesham.
Brathwaite took two runs on the fourth ball of that over to reach his first one-day international century, faced another dot ball and then had the choice: Hit a six from the last delivery from Neesham, or take a single and try to score five runs from the final six deliveries.
And so he launched the last ball of the 49th over down toward the long-on boundary “willing it to go up, and up and up,” and over the rope for six runs, he said.
Why not? He had belted five sixes earlier in the innings.
However, this time, New Zealand’s Trent Boult was there to take a catch just inside the boundary rope. Game over. New Zealand won by five runs and reclaimed top spot in the World Cup standings.
“One or two yards more, we would have been victorious tonight,” Brathwaite said. “I’m not going to beat myself up, because the ball should have gone for six and we should have won.”
New Zealand, after holding on to win a tight game for the third time in the tournament, gathered around Brathwaite to commend him on the remarkable innings. In the moment, though, he was barely aware of anyone.
“Obviously heartbreaking to get so close, but not get over the line,” Brathwaite said. “Devastated ... but also giving thanks for the performance. Even getting the team into the position we got into.”
The West Indies won the toss and sent New Zealand in, taking two wickets in the first over of the match before the Kiwis rallied to post 291-8 in 50 overs.
In reply, the West Indies were 142-2 before things started to go haywire. Shimron Hetmeyer (54) and Chris Gayle (87) put on 122 runs for the third wicket, but were both out in a slide of five wickets for 22 runs.
Brathwaite had to come in and block the hat-trick ball after Lockie Ferguson took two wickets with consecutive deliveries. He did that and then counterattacked. When everyone else was writing them off, Brathwaite kept batting with Kemar Roach (14), Sheldon Cottrell (15) and Oshane Thomas. He shared a 41-run partnership for the last wicket with Thomas, scoring every one of those runs.
“Give credit to the lower order, everyone that came in. Everyone believed we could get over the line,” Brathwaite said. “The fight that the lower order showed was commendable.”
In the earlier match on Saturday, India survived a mighty scare from winless Afghanistan, winning in the last over by 11 runs.
Unbeaten India were made to sweat the entire distance by Afghanistan. Their incredible effort in a compelling, low-scoring match at the Rose Bowl almost earned them a first win over a still-stunned India.
Afghanistan restricted India to 224-8 and made a good fist of the chase until the last over, when they needed 16 to win with three wickets in hand.
Mohammad Nabi hit a boundary off the first delivery by fast bowler Mohammed Shami. Nabi refused a single off the second delivery to keep the strike. On the third delivery, he was caught at long on to end a nerveless 55-ball 52-run knock, more than his previous five innings combined.
However, the drama was not over. Shami’s yorker took out Aftab Alam’s leg stump, then his next yorker bowled Mujeeb Ur Rahman to end the match as Shami became the second India bowler to take a World Cup hat-trick and the 10th overall.
“How good you come back and finish your over is what’s important. That’s what Shami did,” teammate Kedar Jadhav said. “After getting hit for the first ball, he got a wicket and kept on picking those wickets. That’s when character comes into play.”
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