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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Roach sets up crushing win for West Indies

By Kanishkaa Balachandran (a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo)

Victory didn't seem so certain at the end of the fourth day, but West Indies delivered the knockout punch on the fifth, thanks to their seamers, to cruise to a nine-wicket win and take a 1-0 lead in the series. West Indies needed to pick up the seven remaining wickets as quickly as possible, and Kemar Roach hastened that with a five-wicket haul to give the hosts an easy target of 102, which Chris Gayle and Kieran Powell approached without fuss.

It was a continuation of the good work put in by West Indies after they landed home after a tough tour of England. The inclusion of Gayle and Sunil Narine - giants in Twenty20 leagues - heightened the anticipation for cricket fans world over. Both made significant contributions in the victory - Gayle with 154 in the first innings and Narine with a match haul of eight wickets, including a five-for in the first innings. It was West Indies' third win in the last two years and arguably with their strongest XI in recent months.

For New Zealand, their tour only got tougher, having surrendered the T20s and ODIs to the hosts. However, they showed a lot of character on the fourth day to raise hopes of saving the game. The top order didn't allow the scoreboard pressure to weigh them down, and ended the day 28 ahead with seven wickets in hand. They needed their batsmen to sustain that intensity and bat out at least two sessions on the final day, but when their specialist batsmen let them down early, the writing was on the wall for the visitors.

A double-strike by Roach, immediately after a short rain interval, raised West Indies' hopes of closing out the game. The wickets heaped pressure on New Zealand as the battle for survival got tougher against an incisive Roach and Narine, who looked like striking every over. Neil Wagner impressed with his defence and perseverance for a nightwatchman, but New Zealand expected more from their specialist batsmen in a tense morning session.

With fielders hovering around the batsmen, run-scoring was a challenge. New Zealand managed just two boundaries in the morning. It was a battle of attrition as New Zealand scored just 26 runs off as many overs in the session. Not surprisingly, Narine shouldered the burden, bowling 12 of those overs. The ball spun and shot up off the rough, troubling Wagner in particular who hung on a cliff's edge each time he took guard against the spinner.

But it was Roach who provided the two breakthroughs. A short shower forced the players off the field for 20 minutes. Roach struck two balls after resumption, pitching it outside off and angling it into Ross Taylor, who was trapped on the pads just in front of the leg stump.

Taylor went for the review, but the on-field umpire's call was upheld. Roach struck again in his following over, uprooting Kane Williamson's off stump with a beauty that held its line and beat the bat. West Indies had struck twice in 11 balls for no run.

The pressure was on Dean Brownlie, who took 19 balls to get off the mark. In a ten-over period, New Zealand managed just five runs, showing just how much control West Indies had had over them.

Roach, now armed with the new ball, struck in the first over after the lunch break when he removed the resolute Wagner caught behind, trying to drive. Wagner's 103-ball vigil as nightwatchman should serve as a lesson to the specialist batsmen, who failed to hang around long enough to frustrate West Indies. Ravi Rampaul removed Brownlie the following over, inducing an edge to Chris Gayle at slip. Darren Sammy was tempted to take Rampaul off the attack and bring back Narine, but a fired-up Rampaul convinced his captain to change his mind, and he responded with Daniel Vettori's wicket.

Narine too had some success after lunch, though, when he trapped Doug Bracewell plumb in front of the stumps. Kruger van Wyk farmed the strike with Chris Martin and played some enterprising reverse sweeps to take the lead past 100, but Roach had the last laugh when he knocked back van Wyk's off stump to take his fifth five-wicket haul.

A target of 102 was never going to test the hosts, especially with the in-form Gayle around. He helped himself to an easy half-century to crown his return to the Test side after an exile of one and a half years. New Zealand only managed Powell's wicket with the score on 77, but at that stage the game was all but over. Assad Fudadin knocked off the winning runs and West Indies went into the second Test with an unassailable lead in the series.


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