Trinidad rallies round West Indies as T20 cricket comes to its spiritual home

Fans had enough reasons to cheer early on with Nicholas Pooran on fire ICC/Getty Images

This was T20 at its very best: played under the floodlights with high stakes, high skill, and high drama. When New Zealand and West Indies were drawn in the group of death, this fixture was earmarked as one of the biggest of this stage. When New Zealand were thrashed by Afghanistan in Guyana, this became close to a knockout match.

The Uriah Butler Highway - the route out of Port-of-Spain - was gridlocked. The Brian Lara Cricket Academy is 50km away from Trinidad and Tobago's capital city, and the afternoon rush hour combined with thousands of cricket fans driving south towards San Fernando brought the country's main road to a standstill. Rightly so: T20 cricket was coming home.

Yes, the format was first played professionally in England and has been turned into a commercial behemoth by India, but Trinidad is T20's spiritual home. This country, with a population of 1.5 million, has produced more of the format's superstars than anywhere else in the world and their success is the source of immense national pride.

Incredibly, this was West Indies' first men's World Cup match in Trinidad, in either format. The 8.30pm start time meant that the venue was nearly full before the toss, filled with West Indies maroon and Trinidad red. Those two colours of shirts formed snaking queues for fried fish and cold beer; they blew their air horns and banged their drums; and they vied for space on the sprawling grass banks on the eastern side of the ground.

They stood with their team as David Rudder, the Calypso icon, held his microphone like a preacher and implored them to Rally, Rally 'Round the West Indies. Rudder is 71 now and revealed last year that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. This was a rare public performance and the crowd hung on his words in a stripped-back rendition of his anthem.

And then, barely half an hour later, West Indies were 30 for 5. This was a two-paced pitch with variable bounce but New Zealand's seamers only had to bash away at a good length: the first three wickets were the result of huge swipes, before Rovman Powell and Brandon King both steered catches to Devon Conway with no conviction.

West Indies' recent success under Daren Sammy's coaching has led expectations to swell ahead of a World Cup on home soil. "I just wonder if West Indies' batters have not quite got the emotions under control," Carlos Brathwaite, who snatched the 2016 title for them, said on commentary. "Yes, we love the intent, but then you have to marry that with sufficient smarts as well."

Kane Williamson, New Zealand's captain, recognised the chance to bowl West Indies out and went for the kill: he stuck with his four main seamers and when Andre Russell walked in at No. 8, he pushed a fifth fielder up into the inner circle and brought both mid-on and mid-off up, daring him to hit Lockie Ferguson down the ground.

Russell obliged, crunching his first ball over Ferguson's head for four, and when Williamson pushed mid-on back to the boundary, Russell hit the very next ball over his head for six. But Williamson didn't budge: he threw the ball to Trent Boult, his best bowler, and Russell miscued his speared-in offcutter to short third.

Williamson will be roundly criticised for his decision to bowl his frontline bowlers out by the end of the 18th over but at 112 for 9, it looked to have paid off. Williamson bet big on his flush: he could hardly have expected Sherfane Rutherford - at that stage 31 off 27 balls - to reveal he was sitting on a full house.

But Rutherford displayed a rare combination of skill and sense, destroying Daryl Mitchell and Mitchell Santner at the death. He took it upon himself to face every ball in the final two overs, hitting four of them for six and two for four. The tenth wicket partnership - the highest in men's T20 World Cups - was worth 37 in 13 balls, of which Gudakesh Motie contributed 0 not out.

It was outrageous hitting, epitomised by the wristy punch off Mitchell which flew 86 metres over long-off and the slog-sweep dragged over long-on off Santner. "Playing a World Cup match is all of our dreams: it's what we live for and work hard for," Rutherford said at the interval, sweat dripping off him.

With the ball, West Indies were irresistible. Even with heavy dew, their spinners took control: Akeal Hosein's arm ball accounted for Devon Conway early on before Motie bossed the game in the middle overs. His delivery to dismiss Mitchell was a contender for the ball of the tournament: round-arm trajectory, 62mph/99kph, pitching on leg and hitting middle-and-off.

West Indies were not quite perfect: catches went down and run-outs were missed. But New Zealand never managed a partnership of even 25, and Alzarri Joseph came back to finish things off at the back end with his hard lengths at high pace. It was "as good an all-round bowling performance as I've seen from this team", Ian Bishop declared, as the fans on the grass banks jumped up one final time.

It means West Indies are through, and can plan their route - St Lucia, Barbados, then Antigua - for the Super Eight. New Zealand's tournament hardly got started, and is all but over. This was cricket with consequences, in front of a crowd that lived every ball: sport doesn't get much better.