West Indies 134 for 6 (Pollard 38, Hasaranga 3-12) beat Sri Lanka 131 for 9 (Nissanka 39, McCoy 2-25) by four wickets
In one of the more ridiculous T20 run-chases you will witness, Kieron Pollard became just the third player to hit six sixes in an over in international cricket off the same bowler, Akila Dananjaya, who had rocked West Indies’ chase just an over earlier with a hat-trick.
It felt like it was either sixes or wickets for most of West Indies’ innings as an opening stand of 52 in 3.2 became 52 for 3 when Evin Lewis, Chris Gayle (on his comeback) and Nicholas Pooran fell in three balls to Dananjaya. Eight balls later Lendl Simmons also departed, lbw to the impressive Wanindu Hasaranga, before Pollard’s immense response.
Facing the next over from Dananjaya he joined Herschelle Gibbs and Yuvraj Singh in having taken 36 off an over with some of the shots almost going out of the small ground in Antigua. West Indies’ powerplay tally of 98 was also a new record and the wild ride continued when Pollard was also lbw to Hasaranga before relative calm was brought to the game’s final minutes by Jason Holder, who was returning to the T20I fold.
His 29 off 24 balls saw West Indies home with four wickets and 41 balls to spare after they had limited Sri Lanka to a sub-par 131 for 9, on what was a good batting surface. Such was the feast and famine nature of West Indies’ batting – 75% of their runs (102) came in boundaries off just 19 deliveries – that the innings required Holder’s steadying touch despite all the preceding pyrotechnics.
So devastating was Pollard’s innings that it took off most, if not all, of the sheen off what would have otherwise been a dream return to international cricket for Dananjaya. That said, much of the uncertainty in West Indies’ chase was brought on by Hasaranga, whose back-to-back scalps of Pollard and Fabian Allen – the hosts still needed 31 runs with four wickets in hand at that point – had sown doubt.
In the first innings of the rain-interrupted game, Obed McCoy’s 2 for 25 was the pick of the figures, but it was an all-round effort for West Indies with each of the six bowlers used picking up a wicket. Aside from a brief period when debutant Pathum Nissanka and Niroshan Dickwella put on a 51-run second-wicket stand, the West Indies bowlers were always in control. The fact that just the three boundaries were conceded in final 10 overs tells its own story.
West Indies seamers keep batters in check
Holder exercised all his considerable experience and showed exactly why the selectors had chosen to put their faith in him. Utilising his entire repertoire of variations – yorkers, slower balls, slower bouncers, you name it – he reeled back the Sri Lanka innings in the middle overs, just as they would have been looking to up the scoring.
His four overs went for just 19 runs, and accounted for the wicket of Dickwella, who had been growing increasingly frustrated as a result of the obduracy of Holder and the West Indies bowlers in general.
Alongside him, Dwayne Bravo – another veteran returning to the side – and the much greener McCoy used similar variations to keep the visiting batsman quiet.
Fidel Edwards meanwhile also enjoyed a fruitful return to international cricket. At 39, he still showed he was able to hit the 140kph mark fairly regularly, and he was rewarded with the wicket of Angelo Mathews.
Nissanka impresses in brief cameo
Both Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews were guilty of picking out fielders when it would have been easier not to, while other seasoned campaigners, Dickwella and Thisara Perera, will not want to look back at their shot selection. But in Pathum Nissanka there was Sri Lanka’s one bright spark in an otherwise forgetful performance with the bat.
While he has impressed in first-class cricket, here he showed off his T20 chops. Coming in following the early dismissal of Gunathilaka, Nissanka showed no sign of nerves, comfortably rotating the strike initially, before switching gears. A glorious slog sweep for six over deep midwicket off Kevin Sinclair was undoubtedly the highlight of his innings, while a few more well-placed boundaries served to show some of the reasons behind his selection.
He will still be disappointed though at his inability to build on what was a promising start, getting bogged down towards the end of his innings, culminating in an ill-judged saunter down the tracks that saw him stumped off a flighted Fabian Allen delivery. He finished with 39 off 34 balls.
All aboard the Dananjaya rollercoaster
Rarely will a bowler’s emotions have fluctuated as wildly on a cricket field as Dananjaya’s; by the end of his second over, the young spinner could hardly have accounted for a more perfect return to international cricket. He had just picked up his first-ever international hat-trick, one which included the wicket of Gayle. And in the process he looked to have hauled his side back into a game that was slipping away fast, following some lusty hits from Lewis and Simmons.
That was the good. What followed next is the cricketing equivalent of being subjected to a pop quiz that you haven’t studied for at all, and having no option but to simply stare at a blank piece of paper, resigned to your fate, as you solemnly evaluate the life choices that led you to that point.
Maybe even that doesn’t quite sum up the dread and helplessness Dananjaya must have felt as Pollard proceeded to activate what is known in video game parlance as “boss mode” to pummel, crush and wallop six straight sixes off Dananjaya’s third over.
Dananjaya to his credit did try and mix things up, but whether he went length, full, wide of the stumps, around the wicket, or fired it on the pads, the result remained the same. Dananjaya, in his very next over, was hit for his seventh consecutive six by Holder, and on the next ball Holder was dropped at deep midwicket by debutant Ashen Bandara.
No support for Hasaranga
Hasaranga continued on from his fine form in the Lanka Premier League, where he had topped the wicket-taking charts. He muddled the West Indies batsman with his precise lines and lengths, and dangerous variations. His four overs brought about three wickets and went for just 12 runs. But more than that, it was clear the West Indies batsman were struggling to execute their plan A – whack everything out of the park – against him.
None of the other bowlers could back him up, something they will have to do if Sri Lanka are to bounce back in the series.