Carlos Brathwaite crumbled to his knees, devastated his last big shot to finish off one of the most unlikely comebacks in Cricket World Cup history wasn’t two yards wider or higher.
Nobody really gave him a chance of getting so close. But after scoring 101 from 82 balls, working with three tail-end batters to add 122 runs, he got West Indies into a scenario where they needed six runs off seven balls for victory over previously 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 couldn’t 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 last six deliveries. Not even the New Zealanders would say who was going to bowl the last over of Saturday’s game.
And so he launched the last ball of the 49th over down toward the long-on boundary hoping, he said, “willing it to go up, and up and up”, and over the rope for six runs. Why not? He’d belted five sixes earlier in the innings.
But this time, New Zealander Trent Boult was there to take a catch just inside the boundary rope. Game over. New Zealand wins by five runs, and takes the lead 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.”
The New Zealanders, 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.”
West Indies won the toss and sent New Zealand into bat, taking two wickets in the first over of the match before the Kiwis rallied to post 291-8 in 50 overs.
In reply, West Indies was 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.”
Brathwaite averages 45 in test cricket — he has played three tests — but until Saturday hadn’t quite lived up to his potential in the one-day arena. He’d had moments when he wasn’t sure whether to go hard, or take the less risky option.
At Old Trafford, after such a major comeback, he knew he had only one option.
“Still watch the ball, still react. If it’s not a ball I can get a six off, try to get a single,” Brathwaite said. Thomas was on high alert for a single, “but if it came in my area, I’d try do finish the game on that ball.
“I just knew how much everyone in the dressing room wanted it.”
After one win from six games, including three very narrow defeats, West Indies must beat No. 2-ranked India, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan to have any chance of reaching the semifinals.
As far as Brathwaite is concerned, it’s mission possible.