Matthew Wade was once again the hero as Australia clinched a thrilling, albeit unconvincing, three-wicket victory over the West Indies at Metricon Stadium on Wednesday evening.
The wicketkeeper scored an unbeaten 39 (29) at the death to help Australia reach the 146-run target with one ball remaining on the Gold Coast.
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But the hosts were undeniably assisted by some sloppy fielding, with the jet-lagged West Indies fielders dropping two regulation catches in the final over.
Australia required 11 runs from the last six deliveries, with Wade slapping Sheldon Cottrell’s first delivery through fine leg for a clutch boundary.
But the left-hander miscued his following stroke, edging a cut towards the point boundary rope where Raymon Reifer spilled an absolute soda.
And the Australians were handed another reprieve a couple of deliveries later when Kyle Mayers put down a difficult chance at backward point — Mitchell Starc was the fortuitous batter on this occasion.
They proved costly misses, with Australia crawling towards the target despite reeling at 5/58 earlier in the run chase.
Wade has established himself as one of the most reliable finishers in the 20-over format, repeatedly guiding Australia to unlikely wins over the past 12 months.
The Tasmanian has averaged 100.33 with a strike rate of 160.10 since the start of last year’s T20 World Cup, absurd numbers for a cricketer who has spent most of his white-ball career at the top of the order.
“We’re all used to him smacking it at opening the batting … but he’s really taken that mantle as a finisher,” Australian bowler Pat Cummins told reporters in the post-match press conference.
“He’s been awesome … he’s nailed that spot.”
Despite escaping with a victory, Australia’s batting performance was anything but convincing in the series opener.
West Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh, who recently returned from an ankle setback, was dismissed in the second over for 3, while T20 powerhouses Glenn Maxwell and Tim David were removed for ducks.
Maxwell’s recent form in the game’s shortest format has cause for concern, with the explosive right-hander registering scores of 1, 0, 6 and 0 since the start of last month’s white-ball tour of India.
Wade and Australian captain Aaron Finch, batting at No. 4 for the first time in his international career, combined for a crucial 69-run partnership for the sixth wicket to resurrect the innings.
Player of the Match Finch was eventually removed by West Indies seamer Alzarri Joseph in the 18th over for 58 (53) to set up a nail-biting conclusion.
It was the Victorian’s highest score for Australia on home soil in any format since December 2020, giving him some much-needed confidence ahead of the T20 World Cup.
But Wednesday’s contest raised more questions than answers for Australia ahead of their T20 World Cup campaign, which gets underway in less than three weeks.
Should Steve Smith return to the starting XI? Is Tim David too much of a risk? Should Aaron Finch be given another chance in the middle order? And what about the Cameron Green dilemma?
“We weren’t as clinical as we would have liked with the bat,” Cummins confessed.
“Ideally those kind of chases you’d do a bit easier.”
Joseph finished with superb figures of 2/17 from his four overs, while Cotrell also snared two wickets during the topsy-turvy run chase.
Earlier in the match, opening batter Kyle Mayers top-scored for the West Indies with 39 (36) as the two-time T20 World Cup champions mustered 9/145 from their 20 overs.
The opening batter sent social media into a frenzy with a physics-defying back-foot stroke that flew 105 metres into the venue’s second tier.
Jamaican all-rounder Odean Smith contributed a crucial 27 (17) at the death, while paceman Josh Hazlewood was the pick of the Aussie bowlers with three wickets.
The Australians were also below their best in the field, with David Warner, Adam Zampa and Starc each dropping chances of varying difficulty.
The second T20 between Australia and the West Indies gets underway at the Gabba on Friday evening, with the first ball scheduled for 7.10pm AEDT.