Two nights ago, Boult had returned the second-best ODI figures by a New Zealand bowler at this venue. On Boxing Day, he picked three wickets across his first two overs to leave West Indies tottering at 9 for 5 in their pursuit of the revised target of 166 off 23 overs. That, there, was the game ripped out as West Indies remained winless on tour. More importantly, they weren't any closer to determining their squad balance ahead of the 2019 World Cup qualifiers in March.
Given West Indies' prowess in the shortest format, a target of 166 - set up for New Zealand largely by Ross Taylor (47 not out) and Tom Latham (37) - should have been right down their alley. But the loss of Chris Gayle in the first over, after he sliced a catch to point, didn't help matters. Things only became worse
Shai Hope hit a full inswinging delivery to midwicket, Kyle Hope was pinned in front by a full delivery that angled in although that was a debatable lbw call, Jason Mohammed's defence was breached by a full delivery that tailed in late to beat the inside edge and Chadwick Walton, replacing the injured Evin Lewis, was snuffed out by Boult's toe-crusher. West Indies captain Holder briefly triggered a surge as he picked off 15 off Todd Astle's first over, but the wickets of Rovman Powell and Ashley Nurse in successive overs left him high and dry.
New Zealand's spinners got into the act too. Mitchell Santner slowed the ball down and deceived Powell in flight, while Astle came back from a costly first over to dismiss Nurse with a ripping googly that left West Indies at 58 for 7. Santner went on to pick two more wickets for returns of 3 for 15.
The pace at which the house came down for West Indies was in sharp contrast to earlier in the day, when their faster men had New Zealand hopping and jumping. With every passing minute early on, it became increasingly evident that this was a very good toss to lose on a juicy surface under overcast skies.
Holder kept getting the ball to rear up at awkward lengths at New Zealand's openers. George Worker, in a bid to get the side going, chopped on against Sheldon Cottrell. Neil Broom, recalled to the side for the series and tested at No. 3, was out for another single-digit score, caught in the slips by Gayle while attempting to cut a delivery that wasn't all that short. The next over saw Holder dismiss Colin Munro, who nicked to Gayle at slip, and New Zealand were wobbling at 26 for 3.
By now, West Indies were charged up, so much that they went up for an optimistic review for an lbw against Tom Latham despite being uncertain. Replays confirmed the length ball that was angling away would've missed the stumps. That lost review would have come to their minds when Taylor survived a strong caught-behind appeal in an attempt to play hook shot off Cottrell only three overs later.
Shannon Gabriel's introduction in the 14th over, surprisingly behind the left-arm spinner Nikita Miller, allowed New Zealand some breathing room. Gabriel began waywardly and was picked by Taylor for two boundaries square of the wicket on the off side. In a bid to strengthen that side, the slip came off, only for the final delivery to race past the cordon off a thick outside edge.
Holder was a touch guilty of slipping into the defensive as early as the 13th over, when deep point and long-off were in place for Miller, as West Indies allowed the game to drift slightly. That helped New Zealand's recovery and they had reached 83 for 3 in 19 overs when the rains arrived to frustrate players, fans and officials for the next five hours.
A wait of close to three hours looked set to end when the umpires deemed the outfield fit enough for a 33-overs-a-side contest, only for the rain to return five minutes before resumption. Then there was another inspection, following which the match was reduced to 27 overs. It drizzled again. Just as the threat of an abandonment surfaced, the rains relented again for the umpires to truncate the game further to 24 overs, before they finally settled on 23 with the clock veering towards a call-off.
First Latham, and then Henry Nicholls picked off crucial boundaries in the end overs by unsettling West Indies' predictable lengths. Taylor then lent the finishing touches by picking two boundaries in the final over that went for 16. He was the top scorer with 47 not out as New Zealand added 48 off the last four overs to finish with 131 for 4. The surge towards the end that resulted in a target revision may have well been the clincher for West Indies. AGENCIES