HEAVY rain and lightning intervened. However, thunderous strokeplay from Chris Gayle and Dwayne Smith would not be denied as West Indies cruised to a comfortable nine-wicket win under the Duckworth/Lewis formula in their opening One-day International against New Zealand at Sabina Park yesterday.
Man-of-the-Match Andre Russell first took 4-45, including an opening burst of 3-20 from six overs in seamerfriendly conditions, as New Zealand limped to 190-9 in their 50 overs.
Replying, Gayle and Smith, following the early loss of Lendl Simmons (0), found their range with booming shots to all parts when streaks of lightning and driving rain sent players and umpires scampering for cover with 18 overs bowled and 93 runs scored.
The break lasted just under two hours and in the old days, the rain which left puddles all around would have meant no play for the rest of the day. But in the post-2007 Cricket World Cup era, Sabina Park, like other international grounds around the Caribbean, boasts good drainage.
Good to such an extent that by 5:00 pm when the umpires deemed conditions fit for play, only sawdust, used as a drying agent at the northern end, provided evidence of the downpour.
By then, Duckworth/Lewis dictated that the West Indies needed just another 43 runs to win in 15 overs. As it turned out, the left-handed Gayle and the right-handed Smith spent six overs and two balls to reach their target of 136, leaving 52 balls remaining at the end.
The 29-year-old Smith smashed a 77-ball 65 with six fours and three sixes. The powerful 32-year-old Gayle, seemingly highly motivated on his return to the team following his long stand-off with the West Indies Board, spent just 57 balls over his unbeaten 63, which included five sixes and four fours.
It was Gayle’s third successive half-century in limited-overs’ cricket against New Zealand following his two Twenty/20 knocks in Florida last week. It was his first international game on his home ground since scoring a century in the famous Test match victory over England back in 2009.
Prior to the rain, the fairsized crowd had thrilled to the sound of bat and ball as Gayle and Smith repeatedly hammered the white orb to the boundary and beyond. This was after Simmons fell in the third over, leg before to Kyle Mills (1- 7 from five overs).
One especially fierce Gayle straight drive brushed aside the hands of leg spinner Tarun Nethula, triggering gasps around the ground. And while the six-hitting from both batsmen also left the crowd in awe, it was Gayle’s sumptuous back cut to the backward point boundary off Jacob Oram that was perhaps the shot of the day.
Earlier, Russell, whose second spell was far less incisive than the first, got excellent support from newball partner Ravi Rampaul (2-42), off-spinner Sunil Narine 2-26, and Daren Sammy (1-23) as New Zealand’s batsmen never got going.
The visitors, without a number of their leading players for one reason or another, were led by a composed, disciplined 98-ball 60 from wicketkeeper/batsman BJ Watling.
But otherwise, only Jacob Oram, with 32 from 39 balls, and the 21-year-old stand stand-in skipper Kane Williamson (24), made scores worthy of mention.
Sent to bat on a pitch which perhaps had too much preparation moisture for the purposes of limited-overs’ cricket, New Zealand stumbled against the pace of Rampaul and Russell.
The latter got the early rewards as the ball seamed about. With three runs scored, Russell’s second delivery of the game’s second over left the right-handed Martin Guptill (1) off the pitch and flicked the edge for Sammy at second slip to take a good, low catch.
The lively Russell followed up with the scalps of left-hander Daniel Flynn (12), bowled off the bottom edge as he flashed outside off, and the righthanded Rob Nichol (14), who skied an attempted pull for Simmons to take a good running catch at midwicket.
At that stage, New Zealand were 33-3 in the 10th over. They fell to 48-4 when Dean Brownlie (1) failed to pick Narine — whose heady mix of deliveries was compounded by sharp turn on occasions — and was trapped leg-before.
Williamson and Watling spent nine overs in a fifth wicket stand of 24 before the former was undone by a superb away swinger from Sammy for ’keeper Denesh Ramdin to take the edged catch.
The big, towering Oram threatened briefly, launching the only two sixes of the innings — dominating a stand of 46 with the steady Watling. But when the left-handed Oram, swinging across the line, was bowled by Rampaul, New Zealand effectively lost the chance for a competitive total.