A classy captain’s hand from Jason Holder ensured the West Indies go into the weekend with two wins from two, after a hard-fought and at times nervy victory over a spirited Papua New Guinea.
At one stage a monumental upset seemed to be on the cards, but from the precariousness of 58/4 chasing PNG’s 200, Holder and his resolute No.3 Shai Hope took the West Indies home with 46 balls and six wickets to spare.
The final scorecard belied the twitchiness of the chase. Both the openers, Evin Lewis and Shimron Hetmyar, fell for single figures, before Marlon Samuels, for a breezy 24, and Jason Mohammed for a duck, followed soon after.
Faced with a sluggish pitch in oppressively muggy heat against a nagging PNG attack, it took all of Holder’s class, and Hope’s guts, as he battled physical fatigue to support his more expansive skipper, to see the favourites home.
While both batsmen finished up frustratingly shy of personal milestones, with Holder perhaps the most peeved to come up just one run short of what would have been a maiden limited-overs century, the cool way they repaired the innings is a positive sign of what’s to come.
With Hetmyer and Chris Gayle – who missed today’s match but is expected to return at the weekend – registering hundreds against UAE in the first game, the Windies batting unit appears to be peaking at just the right time.
Yet despite the relative comfort of the final few overs as victory appeared assured, this was another closely-contested affair that once again demonstrated the quality of teams on show. Earlier in the piece, a half-century from Assad Vala gave Papua New Guinea a promising base and Norman Vanua added an impudent finish, but Carlos Brathwaite was on point with the ball, the Windies paceman’s five-wicket haul restricting PNG to 200 from their 42.4 overs.
Brathwaite conceded just 27 runs in his 10 overs – 13 of which came in his last over – to further enhance his credentials as a limited-overs all-rounder of the highest class.
Choosing to bat, PNG got off to a nightmare start, losing Vagi Morea to a run out – Holder’s day starting as it would go on – from the third ball of their innings. Thereafter, Tony Ura, who brought up a hundred against Ireland in the previous match, settled in with Vala, the duo seeing off the first 10 overs with few hiccups.
Ura was the aggressor. He shook off the effects of being struck on the head to slam a couple of sixes down the ground and over the mid-wicket region as Ashley Nurse was welcomed into the attack with his first over going for 13 runs. Nurse, however, got the breakthrough in his next over, as Ura was sent back for a 45-ball 37. That started a mini slide, engineered by Brathwaite, as PNG slipped to 82/4.
Vala was still there, however, and he duly shared an enterprising 69-run stand with Mahuru Dai, before Dai’s breezy 35 was cut short by Miller’s arm ball. The dismissal, closely followed by Vala himself for an 89-ball 57, precipitated a collapse that saw PNG sink from 151/4 to 163/9.
The collapse threatened to undo all Vala’s good work, but with nothing to lose, the last-wicket pair of Vanua and Alei Nao hit out to take the total to 200. Vanua, who survived a dropped catch, made a 22-ball 35, which included three sixes and two fours.
If it wasn’t for Holder’s strength, both physically and in the mind, the 26-year-old launching four sixes and nine fours from his 101 balls, PNG’s total may well have been enough. In the final analysis, it’s the Windies who march on, while PNG have now lost all three of their fixtures so far.