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West Indies defend 227 for bonus-point win

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West Indies’ bowlers, led by Jason Holder and Ashley Nurse, defended 227 on a deteriorating Harare pitch to register a bonus-point win, their first against Sri Lanka at a neutral venue since 1999. West Indies may not have had as much had it not been for enterprising cameos from Jonathon Carter and debutant Rovman Powell.

Holder set the tone with a sensational opening spell of swing bowling in which he picked up two wickets and conceded 12 in five overs. He had Dhananjaya de Silva caught behind off an inside edge and drew Kusal Mendis forward with a full delivery that swung away late and took the outside edge.

Nurse took a reverse-cupped catch in front of his face at second slip. In between, Johnson Charles effected an agile run-out of Kusal Perera, hitting the stumps directly from square leg.

The pitch seemed to slow down as the afternoon wore on with more than a few balls stopping in the surface. Nurse dismissed Sri Lanka captain Upul Tharanga with one such delivery. It pitched on leg, drawing Tharanga into a flick, but the ball spun and bounced extravagantly to take the leading edge and lobbed back to the bowler.

A few overs later, Nurse beat the defense of Asela Gunaratne and trapped him in front with what looked like an innocuous offbreak. Suddenly, Sri Lanka had slumped to 79 for 6 on a surface that was getting increasingly harder to bat on, making West Indies’ score of 227 seem a lot more.

Sachith Pathirana and Shehan Jayasuriya kept Sri Lanka in the hunt with a 60-run partnership, but too much damage had been done too early. Nurse finished with 3 for 46, while Shannon Gabriel claimed the last two wickets to return 3 for 31.

Rovman Powell gave the West Indies a late boost with a quick-fire innings
Rovman Powell gave the West Indies a late boost with a quick-fire innings

That score was achieved after Jason Holder had lost his sixth straight toss and West Indies were put in. For most of their recent ODI series against Pakistan, their focus was on their biggest strength: power-hitting, as opposed to strike-rotation. It seemed like West Indies had intentionally swapped their strategy, with mixed results.

West Indies’ major concern would have been negotiating a testing opening spell in gloomy conditions. Their batsmen were adept at doing so, albeit on a morning with less swing available than in the tri-series opener two days ago.

Sri Lanka nipped out the openers in that period, including the run-out of Kraigg Brathwaite who plonked his bat on the crease while completing a run. The bat jarred in the turf and bounced up as Nuwan Kulasekara’s direct hit from mid-on found him short.

Debutant Shai Hope and Evin Lewis, a T20 specialist, were then forced to stabilise a faltering innings. As the slower bowlers were introduced, the pair looked in so much discomfort in finding gaps that West Indies could only muster 51 runs between overs 11 and 25. The Harare pitch had begun to deteriorate and the Sri Lanka spinners strangled the batsmen. West Indies had cut out expansive shots on their own volition, and Sri Lanka closed the gaps.

Carter, an ODI specialist, found his rhythm from the outset, hitting gaps and finding singles by looking for them. He struck 54, and picked off two fours and two sixes in a 62-ball knock filled with intent.

Powell displayed his ball-striking ability in his 29-ball 44, an innings that featured two fours and three muscular sixes into the leg side, all a result of a strong bottom hand.

Just when West Indies looked set for a score in excess of 250, the Sri Lankan seamers returned in the end overs to trigger a collapse. West Indies lost their last five wickets for 18 runs. At the innings break, 227 looked far from sufficient. (ESPNCricinfo)

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