By Niall Anderson in Manchester
Unbelievable. Unforgettable. Unfair.
Pick whatever descriptor you like for the absurd finish of New Zealand's clash against the West Indies, there's only one word the Black Caps will care about - unbeaten.
But, by god, it could not have been any closer.
In one of the most incredible finishes in Cricket World Cup history, a truly phenomenal innings from Carlos Brathwaite fell literally centimetres short of one of the great cricketing comebacks – caught on the boundary with six runs needed for victory.
At 164-7, chasing 292 for victory, such scenes shouldn't have been possible. But Brathwaite – the man with an ODI top score of 50 before tonight – smashed 101 off 82 balls, booming five sixes, each more stunning than the last.
Needing 31 runs with 17 balls remaining, and only the last man – Oshane Thomas – for company, Brathwaite went berserk. Matt Henry was bashed for three straight sixes, before a four and a single left eight runs needed from 12 balls – and a mammoth task for Jimmy Neesham with the ball.
The equation had been reduced to six from seven balls, when a short-of-a-length delivery was slapped towards the long-on boundary.
A roar went up from the expectant crowd. Trent Boult lined it up, feet perilously close to the rope. Tiptoeing on the boundary, he hauled it in with inches to spare – sending Brathwaite to his knees, and the Black Caps into ecstasy.
A sensational ending to a sensational game, which also featured - if anyone can still remember it - a sensational innings from Black Caps captain Kane Williamson.
Williamson looked to have sent the West Indies to death by 1000 cuts, dabs and glorious drives, painting a masterpiece as he compiled, then cruised, then clobbered his way to 148 – his highest one-day score.
51 per cent of New Zealand's runs came off the blade of Williamson, as they reached 291-8 – requiring the West Indies to produce their best chase in World Cup history.
The Black Caps eventually needed every run of it, as Brathwaite's century nearly brought the West Indies back from the death, New Zealand clinging on for a fifth consecutive victory, and vaulting back atop the World Cup table.
The semifinals await – a win over Pakistan on Wednesday will confirm it beyond any doubt – and with Williamson, averaging 186.5 at the Cup, in sensational touch, surely anything is possible.
He could probably do without the drama, though – at both ends of the innings.
For the first time in New Zealand's ODI history, both openers were removed for golden ducks, in an inspired opening over from Sheldon Cottrell. Martin Guptill was given out lbw – on review - by a superb inswinging yorker – before Colin Munro met a similar fate, his stumps removed and the Black Caps two down within five balls.
It was quite the danger to encounter on their maiden voyage setting a total this World Cup, with Williamson having lost his first toss of the tournament.
But, combining with Ross Taylor, the pair produced a familiar resurrection in the calmest of fashions. The slowest powerplay at the World Cup so far – 30 runs from it – turned into 48 balls without a boundary, but there was never any panic as the pair crafted the innings with care.
It was remarkably tranquil, gradually increasing their strike rate like a racecar clicking through the gears. Their partnership's first 50 runs took 90 balls, but the next 100 came at a run-a-ball as they added 160 – New Zealand's third highest World Cup stand.
Williamson made it back-to-back World Cup centuries – having now scored an ODI ton against every team he's played more than twice - and then viciously accelerated.
His final 48 runs came off 30 balls as Williamson peppered all areas, using every inch of the ground, before brief cameos from Colin de Grandhomme and Neesham saw 92 runs bashed from the last 10 overs, leaving the West Indies needing to produce their record World Cup chase.
Much like the Black Caps, it was an inauspicious start. Trent Boult (4-30) removed Shai Hope and Nicholas Pooran in his first three overs, Chris Gayle was battling away on five from 23 balls, and shortly afterwards, offered a chance which a diving Boult couldn't cling onto.
Two booming sixes followed, and with Gayle joined by the similarly destructive Shimron Hetmyer, the pair began to plunder. Hetmyer smoked three fours off Neesham and gave Matt Henry similar treatment as the pair added 100 from just 77 balls.
In between, the Black Caps nearly butchered their hopes.
Henry put down a sitter at square leg with Gayle on 58, and three balls later, Munro saw a tougher chance go through his hands. Gayle promptly sent back-to-back sixes from Mitchell Santner over the despairing gaze of Boult at long-on, and when a Hetymer top edge landed in between three fielders, Santner's hands dropped to his knees.
They were back in the air before long. Lockie Ferguson knocked over Hetmyer's stumps, before snaffling an edge from Jason Holder next ball. Next over, Gayle tried to send de Grandhomme over Boult's head for a third time, but this time it went straight into his hands.
Ashley Nurse and Evin Lewis – the big-hitting opener batting at number eight due to a hamstring injury – lasted 11 balls between them, both removed by Boult, and the West Indies' chances looked dead.
Brathwaite, somehow, brought them back to life, only for their hopes of one of the greatest ever comebacks to be culled short.
By the most incredible of margins.
The Alternative Commentary Collective are podcasting their way through the World Cup. Known for their unconventional sports analysis and off-kilter banter, the ACC have come to ask the tough questions. Here's the latest episode of 'The Agenda':
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT