Mooen Ali came to the party today, bringing his fastest half-century in T20Is and a couple of wickets to get England to 193 for 6 and restrict West Indies to 159 for 5.
His 63 off 28 balls and 2/28 Man-of-the-Match performance helped his team beat Kieron Pollard’s West Indies by 34 runs in Game Four of the five-match Betway T20 Series at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown in Barbados.
The game was arguably lost and won in the middle overs of each innings. But the outcome might well have been different but for the last five overs of the England innings, especially the last two overs from Jason Holder.
He had been the star of the show with a career-best 4/7 in Game One exactly a week ago. But in over number 18, the England stand-in captain put a rare hiding on the former West Indies red ball skipper, swatting him over the boundary ropes four times off consecutive balls and taking 28 runs in all.
And after Holder (3/44) came back to claim two wickets off the first three balls of the last over of the innings, his last two balls disappeared into the stands again.
At the other end, Romario Shepherd conceded 18 so that the tally off the final five was a whopping 75.
Put in to bat after Ali called wrong, England had more than doubled their 45 for 1 score between overs six and 12, motoring to 96 for 2. The second-wicket pair of Ali and Jason Roy (52 off 42, 5 x 3, 3 x 6) put on 85 in nine overs, the opener bringing up his half-century off 34 balls.
After Pollard found his edge and Nicholas Pooran took the catch behind the wicket, Ali would be associated in another fruitful partnership with Liam Livingstone, whose share of the 65-run fourth-wicket partnership was just 16.
Ali finally holed out to Shepherd on the long-off boundary, having hit seven sixes and just one four in his 28-ball stay at the wicket. And the 13 runs added after he left merely increased the psychological pressure on Pollard’s batsmen.
The 75 England got off the last five overs was the exact figure the WI needed at the end of the 15th over if they were to earn victory and seal a series win. But as they had in the middle, Ali and his men proved too much for them in the end.
Needing almost ten runs per over at the start of the innings, the home side were on 56 without loss after the first six overs. In the next six, they only got as far as 81 for 3, including both openers and Rovman Powell, whose 53-ball 107 had won Game Three for his side.
On a track that provided some help to the spinners, the England skipper used his slow bowlers to very good effect. He took the new ball himself for two overs of the powerplay and used Livingstone’s off-spin and Rashid’s leg-spin to the WI batsmen into knots.
Both Kyle Mayers (40 off 23), replacing Shai Hope at the top of the order, and Brandon King had looked comfortable enough against the quicker stuff, Mayers taking 4-6-6 off Tymal Mills’ first over. Neither was at home, however, against Rashid (1/28), whose first three overs cost a mere 12 runs and accounted for Powell, ‘absolutely bamboozled’, as the TV commentator described it, by a googly.
Ali described Rashid as ‘a brilliant bowler, definitely our best bowler’ and said that he had ‘bowled brilliantly’ on the day.
“The death bowling,” the skipper added, “was fantastic.”
Pollard conceded that they had been beaten by the better team on the day but said that he continues “to see the enthusiasm in the team.”
Making mention of young Dominic Drakes, who bowled only two of his allotment of four overs, he alluded to the problem of getting the bowling lines and lengths just right.
“We’re playing in the middle of the Oval tomorrow,” he said, “so….”
Today, it was no problem for Ali’s men but it was indeed a problem for the WI bowlers.
Buoyed by the start they got from Mayers and King, the West Indies lost momentum in the middle. But with the scoreboard pressure increasing, Pooran (22 off 16) began getting into his stride, clouting Livingstone for two sixes in the 14th over, one of them travelling 111m.
Not for the first time, he tried to add a third. Not for the first time, the attempt ended up in long-off’s hands.
Victory was still possible if the WI could reproduce Akeal Hosein’s heroics of Game Two or Powell’s of Game Three. Off the last five, they had got 71 and 72 respectively on Sunday and Wednesday.
But although Holder (36 off 24) and Pollard (18 off 16) together put on 47 for the fifth wicket, Darren Bravo, surprisingly allowed in ahead of Shepherd at number 7, could hardly find the middle of the bat.
Pollard too was nowhere near the old Pollard who used to revel in these match-winning challenges. He and the 32-year-old left-hander essentially gave up the chase after Chris Jordan and Reece Topley allowed them only seven and five runs respectively in overs 17 and 18.
Unless they can find their old form in Game Five tomorrow and the bowlers can make the necessary adjustment with the boundaries even on both sides, the West Indies will go down 2-3. That will be another loss after leading twice to add to the hard-to-swallow 1-2 defeat by Ireland earlier this month.
Toss: West Indies
England: 193 for 6 (20 overs) (Moeen Ali 63, Jason Roy 52, James Vince 34; Jason Holder 3/44, Kieron Pollard 1/23, Akeal Hosein 1/23)
West Indies: 159 for 5 (20 overs) (Kyle Mayers 40, Jason Holder 36, Brandon King 26; Moeen Ali 2/28, Liam Livingstone 1/18, Adil Rashid 1/28)
Man-of-the-Match: Moeen Ali
Result: England win by 34 runs
West Indies and England level at 2-2 in five-match series.