England duly got past an off-colour West Indies by eight wickets at the Rose Bowl in Southampton yesterday to move to second in the standings on six points from four games.
Joe Root hit his second century of the tournament and England lost only Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes in the 34.2 overs they needed to overhaul their modest target of 212.
So the WI lost but England were arguably not the biggest winners on the day. Halfway through the West Indies innings, the home side had lost both hard-hitting opener Jason Roy to a hamstring injury and, more crucially, skipper, who experienced manifestly painful back spasms.
“His pro-active, aggressive leadership style,” Graeme Swann explained on TV, “is the main reason why England are where they are at the moment in international ODI cricket.”
But Morgan had been healthy enough to win an important toss on a cold, gloomy morning. He asked Jason Taylor’s troops to take first strike on a wicket that had obviously remained covered during the heavy rains on the two previous days.
By the time Root, opening in place of the injured Roy, and Bairstow strode out to the middle, the sun was in the sky and there had been enough of it to dry the surface out. The West Indian opening pair of Sheldon Cottrell and Oshane Thomas, so devastating in the brief outing against South Africa and earlier against Pakistan and Australia, could make no impression on a pair of batsmen under no scoreboard pressure.
First-change Shannon Gabriel fared no better. But a perhaps 80%-fit Andre Russell, able to deliver only one over from the Hotel End in the powerplay and one from the Pavilion End immediately afterwards, did manage to hit a low-swaying Bairstow flush on the grill.
Holder took over from Russell at the Hotel End. To no avail. Chin music was the order of the day for all the bowlers.
If Australian Michael Slater’s scathing comment that “In this World Cup, the versatility of your game (…) is the key to success” is accurate, the West Indies are doomed to fail. The England win was set up by the very efficient, disciplined performance of their bowlers, which was in sharp contrast to the West Indian attack which Michael Holding deemed “one-dimensional.”
Ian Ward, Holding’s English co-commentator, was moved to say exasperatedly at one point, “they’re not learning.”
When Gabriel eventually induced a false shot from Bairstow (45 off 46, 7 x 4), who uppercut him down to Carlos Brathwaite on the third-man boundary, the score already stood at 100.
Root (100* off 94, 11 x 4), driving like a right-handed Brian Lara and mixing in sweetly-timed pulls, moved steadily to what was a chanceless, even flawless century, jumped past Shakib Al Hasan’s 260 on the top of the run-scoring list. He became the second Englishman to score two centuries in the same World Cup tournament after Kevin Pietersen did it in the West Indies in 2007.
He added 104 with Chris Woakes, promoted to number three perhaps with one eye on the matches to come against Big Three opposition. Woakes (40 off 54) eventually carved Gabriel down to Fabien Allen, on for Russell, on the midwicket boundary. And Ben Stokes replaced him to put the finishing touches to a routine win for the home side.
But not before Gabriel clutched his thigh and withdrew to the pavilion after his last over.
Earlier, only the youthful pair of Nicholas Pooran (63 off 78, 3×4, 1×6) and Shimron Hetmyer (39 off 48, 4 x 4) had looked like making an impression on the England bowling. The pair put on 89 for the fourth wicket after Woakes had exploited Evin Lewis’ flawed technique as early as the third over and then, in combination with Jofra Archer, pegged back Shai Hope and the dangerous Chris Gayle.
Choosing the wrong end to free himself of the restraints, Gayle (36 off 41) succeeded only in finding the safe hands of Bairstow on the long midwicket boundary.
But Hetmyer, 22, who never really found his fluency, and Pooran, 23, stitched together a partnership that took their team from 56 for 3 in the 14th over to the much more promising 144 for four at the end of the 30th.
When Morgan called Root up for a spell that eventually lasted four overs, Hetmyer, chafing at the bit, offered the Test captain a simple return catch in his second over which he accepted gleefully.
And Holder flattered to deceive, clattering a huge six over long-on before getting, in Root’s next over, a leading edge to a ball which had none of the turn he anticipated.
That was the end of the resistance, the last six wickets contributing a mere 68 runs. Like “Universe Boss” Gayle, Russell, known to have the power to turn a game on its head, perished in an ill-advised attempt to show that might is always right—even when the boundary is very long and the situation calls for consolidation.
Man-of-the-Match Root had flattering figures of 5-0-27-2 while Archer finished with 9-1-30-3 and Mark Wood had very respectable final figures of 6.4-0-18-3.
England may be without their skipper and their opener but their next opponents, at Old Trafford on Tuesday, are lowly Afghanistan. The WI’s next two assignments, Bangladesh at Taunton on 17 June and then New Zealand at Old Trafford on 24 June, are çertain to have a great impact on their fortunes in this tournament.
In his post-match interview, skipper Holder opined that the problem remains the batting.
“I don’t think we put enough runs on the board,” he said. “[…] Our batsmen need to take a bit more ownership in the middle overs. There’s no point looking back. We can only control the future.”
Having already messed up by risking a partially fit Russell in a game where victory would have brought bonus points, the WI must think much more carefully about both selection and man management from here on in. They have no control over another washout but they have to ensure that any further loss does not come against “group of death” opponents.
And Bangladesh and the Kiwis are atop that list.
Without their strongest team and their A-game in the next two encounters, it’s almost certainly curtains for the Caribbean Cavaliers.
There will be no future to control. Not in the 2019 World Cup at any rate.