Hard-fought West Indies win levels series
West Indies 460 (Brathwaite 129, Bravo 109, Blackwood 63, Sodhi 4-96) and 95 for 0 (Gayle 80*) beat New Zealand 221 (Latham 82, Taylor 4-34) and 331 (Craig 67, Watling 66*, Williamson 52, Roach 4-74) by ten wickets
It's not easy to win a Test match. Just ask West Indies. Their victory drought in Tests seemed set to end yesterday evening itself, but Mark Craig and BJ Watling made them wait. And wait. The odd drizzle and some threatening rain clouds on the fifth morning only increased the anxiety for the home side. More than two hours into play on the fifth morning, they finally did get New Zealand all out, and though they faced a not-too-challenging target of 93, a downpour soon after the final wicket meant there was little relief for West Indies.
As the skies cleared, so too did the home side's troubles. West Indies fans got to see the sight that perhaps cheers them up the most: Chris Gayle batting in Twenty20 mode to demolish the bowling. The target was hunted down in just 13.2 overs, the long wait for a Test win was finally over, and the series was level.
The rough period may be over for Gayle but one man wasn't finding Test cricket that arduous. After beginning with a Man-of-the-Match performance on debut at Sabina Park, Craig frustrated West Indies with the fifth longest Test innings by a No. 10. He made light of a lack of footwork to stick around for more than three hours, surviving a bunch of chances, including two in the cordon off successive deliveries from Jerome Taylor in the 130th over.
He put on 99 in 43.1 overs with Watling before finally nicking a full ball to the keeper. Watling remained unruffled though, persevering past 200 deliveries as he enhanced his reputation as one of the finest wicketkeeper-batsmen in the world. There were just four fours from him in nearly six-and-a-half hours of defiance, and it came on the back of a splendid performance behind the stumps in Jamaica last week. As the partnership ate up more and more time, advice came even from the crowd, a woman wearing a West Indies jersey shouting for a short leg to be put in place and for the quicks to bang it short.
Even as Watling showed off tremendous powers of concentration, the No. 11 Trent Boult applied himself to hang around. The intermittent drizzle only gave West Indies more to worry about. When Shannon Gabriel finally got rid of Boult, there was almost no celebration from the home side - Gabriel walking back to the umpire, thankful the toil was over, with Chris Gayle and the rest of slip cordon shuffling towards the dressing room, keeping an eye on the weather.
When the rain relented after an hour and a half, Gayle got going. He flicked the first ball of the chase for four, and hit four more boundaries in the next four overs. Then he switched to smashing sixes, clubbing three in a Boult over including one to the roof of the stadium. He galloped to a 50 off 28 balls - the second quickest by a West Indian in Tests - as the chase was finished off in quick time. Gayle and Kraigg Brathwaite are at the opposite ends of the batting spectrum, and it was never more clear than in this partnership: Gayle made 80, Brathwaite 14. Gayle getting among the runs ahead of the deciding Test was the icing on the cake for West Indies.
New Zealand's run of eight Tests without defeat - their longest in over a decade - has been snapped, but they will be pleased they at least made West Indies toil for the win, especially after their limp batting on the first day. The Barbados match will be a test of how far Brendon McCullum's men have progressed.