By Saif Yasin reporting from Florida | Photo Gallery
In their first match on neutral territory the West Indies didn’t fail to provide a spectacular game for the thousands of fans that turned out here in Florida.  Approximately close to 10,000 fans, the majority of whom were decked in maroon and yellow, were treated to both superlative batting and fielding as the West Indies completed a resounding 56 run win over New Zealand. There was much anticipation leading up to yesterday’s match, as the wicket at the Central Broward Regional Ground was under much scrutiny since New Zealand  last toured here in 2010.

Chris Gayle entertain the USA cricket fans during his unbeaten 85. Photos by Shiek Mohamed

The players back then described a lifeless wicket that made both batting and bowling difficult, but since then in collaboration with the New Zealand Cricket Board, USACA has worked feverishly to provide the type of wicket that you would expect in an ICC certified stadium. Question about the pitch were about to be answered as New Zealand won the toss and elected to field first.
To the avail of the crowd Windies and IPL stars Chris Gayle and Dwayne Smith were given the task of opening the batting while the right handed off-break spinner Nathan McCullum took the ball from the pavilion end of the ground. Smith, facing the first delivery, didn’t waste any time as he took the first ball of the innings and deposited in the stands behind long off and in a span of two balls he deposited another into the stands. The score card read 12-0 after the end of the first over and the crowd loved every moment of it. One question had been answered, at least both sides new that wicket would support the men holding the willow.

But for New Zealand, bowling to Gayle and Smith on such a wicket would definitely damper their time here in South Florida. Taking over from the other end, right handed quickster Doug Bracewell  was  shaping up to run in to Gayle.  It was a match made in heaven for the fans; Fast Bowling and Chris Gayle and based on the previous over they were shaping up to see some fireworks from the big Jamaican. But it was nothing of the sort, Bracewell extracted a lot pace and bounce from the wicket, that an over ago seemed flat. One after the other he sent deliveries right outside the off stump and mixed in the occasional bouncers to leave the Gayle looking a little unsettled. Gayle could only manage to get two of Bracewell’s first over, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind as it was still early.

Veteran Kiwi pacer Tim Southee replaced McCullum in the third over after skipper Ross Taylor saw what Bracewell did in the previous over. Smith quickly rotated the strike to Gayle and the crowd roared with delight. In the 4th ball of the over after wasting a free hit, Southee belted a short ball towards Gayle, and he unleashed an almighty pull sending the ball to the midwicket boundary for 4. Smith wouldn’t last too long to see what Gayle had in store for the crowd as in the next over he missed the ball while trying to play across the line of Bracewell’s  delivery and was bowled . Johnson Charles was the new man in and with Gayle they proceeded cautiously to bring up the total. The two didn’t seem troubled by the New Zealand bowlers as they settled with the occasional 4s and the 1s and 2s.

Fans on the green in the party stand.

At the end of the 9th over the score was on 59 for 1 with Gayle on 17 off 24 deliveries and Charles 18 of 18 deliveries. It was somewhat an uncharacteristic style innings from Gayle so far as he had a strike rate below 100 and hadn’t hit a six yet. But the crowd and he knew it, so in the 10th over he bludgeoned the first two balls of McCullum for 4 straight back down the ground. After all the storms that hit Florida the week before, another storm, a Gayle- Storm, was about to reach its peak. In the first ball of the next over by Ronnie Hira, he sent it crashing through midwicket into the party stand and the crowd roared with delight. It was almost short lived, as the next ball Gayle was dropped on a return catch to Hira. Johnson who was batting very patiently was out in the 13th over as he slashed a ball into the leg side and was caught off the bowling of Kane Williamson for 24. This brought in another IPL star, that of Kieron Pollard, and he wasted no time as the first ball he saw he deposited between long on and deep midwicket.  The last ball of the over faced a similar fate as this was deposited in the stands at long off. Pollard lit up the ground with boundary after boundary as Gayle quietly nudged the ball around for singles to bring up his 50 in the 16th over, the first at this ground.

At the end of the 16th Windies had compiled as score of 144 for 2, Gayle with his 50 off 42 and Pollard with his amazing 37 off 13. Anyone at the ground would of expected a score of 170 or so to be very competitive, and it these two had West Indies poised to reach that total. The crowd was in for a real shocker as the last four overs yielded 9, 15, 26 and 15 runs each. Windies reached a record 209 for 2 with Pollard reaching his 50 in the 18th over. A scary moment for New Zealand fans as Captain Ross Taylor as he hurt his shoulder attempting a catch at fine leg. One would have to keep an eye out to see if this would hamper him later in the match. Nevertheless Windies had reached a formidable total and looked poised to defend it.

It was the biggest crowd ever at a cricket event in the USA.

Inning’s Summary
West Indies: 209 for 2 (Chris Gayle 85 7x4s & 5x6s/ Kieron Pollard 63 5x4s & 5x6s/ Johnson Charles 24 3x4s)
New Zealand: Kane Williamson 1.4-0-21-1/ Doug Bracewell 4-0-47-1/ Nathan McCullum 4-0-30-0

With a monumental task ahead of them, New Zealand sent out openers Martin Guptill and Rob Nicol. The two wouldn’t roll over easy as they took 8 off Fidel Edwards first over. Debutant Samuel Badree took the ball from the other end but was given a rude welcoming to international cricket as 10 runs were taken off his first over. Guptil and Nicol took it to the bowlers and at the end of 4 the score was 37 for no loss.

Sunil Narine came in and struck gold first ball as he had Guptil stumped for 11.  The hard hitting Ross Taylor came to middle, but didn’t last long as he had to retire hurt for 10 in the next over, the apparent shoulder injury he sustained while fielding appeared to be much for the New Zealand captain to handle. He would not return. Kane Williams would come in and join Nicols but once again it was to no avail as the two didn’t stick around too long.  Williamson would be caught and bowled by West Indies skipper Darren Sammy in the 9th over for 10 and Nicols to the first ball of Dwayne’s Bravo spell in the 11th for a well played 32. At 88 for 3 and the skipper retired hurt, the Kiwis needed a mixture of responsible and quick scoring batting if they were going to pull off the upset victory.

It came unexpectedly from Tim Southee who blasted a 23 off 18 balls which included to massive 6s but he would fall victim to Sunil Narine in the 14th over. Jacob Oram played his part with 27 of 13 with 2 fours and 2 sixes, but a series of poor running lead to New Zealand only reaching 153 for 8 18.3 overs. Ronnie Hira did not bat after he apparently fractured his finger while bowling and Taylor did not return with his shoulder injury.

It was a great day not only for West Indies cricket but for United States cricket also. Seeing over 10,000 fans flock from all over the United States to converge here in South Florida was a great scene. It shows that cricket as a sport can sustain in the United States as we have the fans to provide the support. The fans were energetic to see their former country men play the sport they love. One could only imagine how much they long to see their adopted country provide such a spectacle for them to witness first hand. Kudos must also go out to USACA for working with the New Zealand and West Indies cricket board for putting this together.  Even though they have been marred in controversy for the past year, they show that they remain focused to promoting cricket here in the USA. Today’s contest is shaping up to be another crowd pleaser, much is expected from these two teams in the final T20.
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