New Zealand's field marshals fulfil the dream

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The Independent Online

The Wimbledon factor came to the aid of the West Indies yesterday - and they took full advantage of it in holding New Zealand to what should have been a manageable 266.

As they were for Maria Sharapova in her semi-final against Lindsay Davenport earlier this month and for Goran Ivanisevic against Tim Henman, to the familiar misery of the long-suffering home devotees, in his semi-final three years ago, a couple of rain breaks were especially timely when New Zealand were batting.

In the end, however, the West Indies opponents were too ruthless, well-drilled and clinically efficient to be denied. The most glaring difference between the teams was the fielding, an aspect of their game that, more than any other, explains why New Zealand have now deposed South Africa in second spot behind Australia in the International Cricket Council's one-day international ratings.

The West Indies missed three early chances that allowed Stephen Fleming and Nathan Astle to lay the foundations of an imposing total. There was more fumbling and wayward throwing than a decent school team would accept. The New Zealanders missed nothing, completing three run-outs, the first two of which proved the undoing of the West Indies.

All this after the two weather breaks that interrupted New Zealand's innings had so favoured the West Indies. The predicted afternoon showers arrived to replace the morning sunshine with Fleming and Astle, New Zealand's two most seasoned batsmen, breezing along at 105 without loss after 18.1 overs once Brian Lara had followed the pattern of the series and sent them in.

By then, Chris Gayle had missed Fleming's straightforward top-edged cut at slip off Tino Best in the third over and Astle had escaped two more difficult offerings to Devon Smith, off Ian Bradshaw, and Ricardo Powell at point at 30, off Best.

The West Indies were in desperate need of the time-out that is available in American sport, but not in cricket. The weather arrived to provide it. It lasted half an hour, time enough for a calm, dressing-room assessment, for Lara to gather his thoughts and for spirits to be lifted by a few appropriate words.

In contrast, it was a delay that broke the New Zealanders' flow. It meant Fleming and Astle had to start all over again. In the third over of the resumption, after scoring nine more, Fleming steered a low catch to gully off Dwayne Bravo, the medium-pacer who has become the West Indian with the golden arm.

Five overs later, as Dwayne Smith's medium-pace drew the reins in on the scoring rate, Astle cut Bravo and Scott Styris spooned Smith, both to point. Now it was New Zealand who required consolidation at 146 for 3.

The perky Hamish Marshall, one of the anonymous stars of the tournament, and the veteran Craig McMillan provided it with a partnership of 71 off 69 balls.

With 10.1 overs remaining at 217 for 3, two batsmen entrenched and Chris Cairns and Jacob Oram, two dangerous strikers to come, a total of 300 was not an unrealistic assumption. Instead, a careless stroke by Marshall lifted West Indian spirits and a second stoppage while another shower swept across St John's Wood gave them quarter of an hour to regroup.

Bravo's last two overs had been taken for 24 and Lara, who handled his bowling changes, his field-placing and the pressure situations skilfully, turned to the round the wicket leg-spin of Ramnaresh Sarwan to replace him instead of the wayward Best.

As the clouds gathered once more, Marshall drove Gayle's flat off-spin to extra-cover, his innings cut short in its prime for 44. That, the rain and Chris Cairns' freak leg-side stumping from Ridley Jacobs' body once more swung the balance.

Suddenly, the West Indies sensed that New Zealand had lost their way. The fielding became more urgent and sure-handed and the loose deliveries fewer. Lara cleverly kept Sarwan going to the end and was rewarded with three wickets. He let Best know that he still had faith in him, recalling him for the last two overs.

The last seven wickets had tumbled for 49 off 9.3 overs. It was a stirring effort by the West Indies that left their strong batting the responsibility of sealing the deal.

Against an inspired side, they simply weren't up to it, their sloppy outcricket typified by the run-outs of Sarwan and Devon Smith that just about settled matters.