"It feels strange," Kieron Pollard said at the toss as West Indies played New Zealand in the first T20I and he stood in the middle of Eden Park surrounded by a crowd. Covid-19 had changed cricket, but the first signs of the game starting to heal and move on were evident in Auckland as the people in the ground reveled in some sensational - and at times unbelievable - cricket.
There was Lockie Ferguson, insisting that he won't bowl a click slower than 150. He picked up his first five-wicket haul in T20Is and while that is memorable on its own, the spell that he bowled - the way he had the world champions ducking and weaving and wearing the ball because they were too slow to react - was the more riveting spectacle. Ferguson finished with figures of 4-0-21-5, with West Indies not in control of 18 of the 24 balls he delivered on Friday evening.
Ferguson and Pollard on what it's like to face each other
Ferguson says bowlers can be "under the pump" while bowling to someone like Pollard
Pollard vs Ferguson was only a two-ball event - "Didn't face him. Smart boy.", the West Indies captain said with a chuckle at the post-match press conference - but the rest of the New Zealand bowlers took a pasting. From 59 for 5 in the sixth over, Pollard took his team to 180 for 7 in a rain-reduced 16-overs-a-side game.
"For me, when the bowlers have their tails up, you have to try something as a batter," he said. "Sometimes you just have to make one mistake. The rain and the nature of the pitch sort of helped us, with the ball coming through. The opening bowlers were a bit short. But he (Ferguson) changed his length and bowled a bit fuller, and that's why he was successful. Again, daunting task, but these are the situations you train for as individuals, when you're team is in trouble you try to get them out."
Ferguson knew - even though he was ripping them apart - that West Indies would be able to recover if their captain stayed at the crease long enough.
"When you face these guys - especially Kieron, who has been very successful - over the last few months, winning every competition there is, you're under the pump [as] Eden Park gets even smaller," Ferguson said.
"I thought we bowled a couple of yorkers that only missed by a little bit and they went a long way into the boundary. Once again, we have to look at our plans and execute them better going forward. That's pretty cliché in T20 cricket. You have good days and you have bad [days]. If we continue to improve, we'll be better for it. But you've got to tip your hat when a guy plays an innings like that, especially after we got quick wickets but he settled himself and had a quick burst in the end."
Pollard made 75 off only 37 balls, and if that sounds like he walked in and went berserk, think again. He took care to get himself in. He respected New Zealand's momentum when they took five wickets for one run. He fought against it, bit by bit, until the umpire mistakenly ruled him out lbw in the ninth over. The review was emphatic. The next ball went for six. The sleeping giant had awakened.
When asked about the official's decision and his animated response to it, Pollard said, "You take it in whatever perception you want. I'm not gonna say anything. Just wanted it to be consistent. Asking for consistency. Being a visiting team, there are some things you expect but we'll continue to fight."
A grand spell of fast bowling. A back-to-the-wall batting masterclass from a T20 legend. A hint of controversy. This riveting game turned in the end due to some rusty cricket from West Indies, who had only come out of quarantine yesterday.
Keemo Paul then bowled four no-balls in the 14th over of the chase - one overstep and three high full-tosses. New Zealand had slowly been whittling down a frightful asking rate. From 115 required off 60, to 82 off 42 and then to 39 off 24, but at the end of that ten-ball over, they needed only 15 off 12.
"In terms of our disciplines, in the bowling aspect, I thought we were a bit erratic," Pollard summed up. "And in international cricket, if you bowl so many no-balls and if you're so inconsistent, you are definitely going to end up on the losing side. But it was an entertaining game of cricket for the fans and the general public, something they haven't got to see in a very long time."
West Indies' waywardness was the result of their search for yorkers and they were forced into a place with so little margin of error by Jimmy Neesham. He came in after a run-out sent Ross Taylor back for a duck in the seventh over, but instead of that breakthrough proving a turning point for West Indies, it ended up one for New Zealand, as the left-hander carved up 48 match-winning runs in only 24 balls.
"Jimmy was a bit of a big brother to me in high school and we played a lot of age groups together," Ferguson said. "But to be fair, the Black Caps are a pretty tight bunch of mates and when anyone does well and wins the game for us, then of course we get around them."
"I think that's a big part of our culture. We try to drive that. Obviously pumped that Sants (Mitchell Santner) and Neesh could get some runs and bat well at the end there. Certainly, we'll celebrate tonight. It was one of the craziest games I've ever been part of. I was in the changing room for our whole batting innings not sure what to do!"