West Indies’ Fabian Allen (right) and Nicholas Pooran put up a brave fight but failed to take their team over the line against Sri Lanka. Reuters
West Indies captain Jason Holder vowed to “look after” Nicholas Pooran after his maiden one-day international century so nearly led to a stunning World Cup win over Sri Lanka on Monday.
Sri Lanka posted an imposing 338 for six, a total built on Avishka Fernando’s first hundred at this level, in a match between two sides whose hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals had already evaporated before a ball was bowled at Chester-le-Street.
But Pooran, well supported by Fabian Allen (51), got the West Indies close to a target of 339 -- which would have been a new World Cup record for a winning side batting second -- before they lost by 23 runs.
Defeat meant the West Indies have now lost seven matches in a row after starting the tournament with an impressive win over Pakistan.
But Holder took some comfort from 23-year-old left-hander Pooran’s century.
“Nicholas played an outstanding innings, he knocked it around as easily as he possibly could,” said Holder as he reflected on Pooran’s 118 off 103 balls, including 11 fours and four sixes.
“What he has produced is what we expect him to produce, we want him to get better and improve,” the all-rounder added.
“We selected him for a reason and gave him full backing to go and play the game he wants to play. Yes he will make mistakes as a young player but it is important for development to take place.
“We will look after Nicholas the best we possibly can, I expect big things. He has got the talent, ability to change gears, he can improvise, has every shot in the locker and it is just a matter of him putting it together more often.”
For the West Indies, the winners of the first two World Cups back in 1975 and 1979, it was yet another case of what might have been after they squandered chances to beat reigning champions Australia and then saw Carlos Brathwaite fall just short of what would have been a match-winning six against New Zealand.
“It is disappointing to come so close on a number of stages and not get that win,” said Holder.
The West Indies end their involvement at this World Cup against Afghanistan, still searching for their first win of the tournament, on Thursday.
“We have shown some fight this entire campaign,” said Holder.
“I’m proud of certain individuals who definitely put their hands up and put their hearts on the line.”
Meanwhile, Allen revels in a bit of razzmatazz, and with Rihanna in the house he tried to make the most of it.
Pooran was playing the support act, Allen had the spotlight, a 30-ball half-century cameo containing seven boundaries and a six down the ground that drew Rihanna to her feet.
The stage was set for a comeback victory, until a mix up cost Allen his wicket and ended an 83-run partnership just as Sri Lanka was starting to panic.
Allen had to be the fall guy, he knew, considering Pooran was one run shy of a milestone 100 at the time. And so he couldn’t turn his teammate back, he took off late to the non-striker’s end, and wasn’t even close to making it to safety. He walked off unhappily prodding his bat into the turf, later saying it was the turning point that led to West Indies losing by 23 runs.
Despite the result, Rihanna visited the players in their changing room. Holder, also from Rihanna’s homeland of Barbados, said her appearance in Riverside stadium was a pleasant surprise.
“It was great to see her here. I just want to personally thank her for coming out,” he said.
“It’s not easy for a celebrity to come down to Durham to watch the West Indies play but I’m sure the boys felt her presence in the stands.
“And she came down to the dressing room as well and met quite a few of the players, and that was also refreshing.”
Allen said he was more confident with the superstar singer in support, and was especially disappointed the team couldn’t deliver a win.
“She’s gorgeous. Rihanna is always my favorite,” he said. “It was good to meet her.”
It wasn’t the primary motivating factor, but it didn’t hurt. Allen and Pooran are two of the young players West Indies will rely on to take the game forward in a region which has produced many of cricket’s greatest players but hasn’t won the World Cup since 1979.
After staying on the sidelines waiting for his turn during the tournament, Allen seized his opportunity with an athletic caught-and-bowled and an energetic innings.
“Once I got on the field. I want the camera be on me!” he said, laughing. “I’m going to do the kind of stuff to make the camera be on me. So I’m going to slide around the field, cheer on everyone. So people are going to love me.”
The 24-year-old Allen was playing only his second World Cup game, and the 23-year-old Pooran was playing his eighth in the elite tournament and ninth ODI overall.
“Just disappointed for us today. So close to winning the game,” said Pooran, who was out in the 48th over for 118. “A century was never on my mind - winning the game was on my mind.
“When Fabian and I batted, we were in control. It was going easily. Unfortunately that runout there, I felt a bit responsible.”