England emerge from darkness

Belated and bizarre victory could allow Strauss's men to turn the corner
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The Independent Online

Just when you thought there could be nothing stranger. The sequence of astonishing events which have shaped the winter continues as usual. All part of the routine.

In effect, West Indies forfeited the first match of the one-day series against England when their batsmen accepted an offer of bad light and walked from the field. They did so at the behest of their coach, John Dyson, who frantically beseeched them to leave and could hardly have done more bar leaping from the dressing-room balcony and dragging his players off by the scruff of their collars.

England had to win a match sometime but it was becoming impossible to see how. All winter they have found a way not to do it, often from positions where victory was a formality. But there is always a way. On Friday night, in a place called Providence – how apt, they may think – they found it.

Dyson made a simple human error by misreading the theory of relativity which passes for the Duckworth-Lewis Method charts used for deciding the result in shortened cricket matches. It was desperately unfortunate for him. He merely overlooked the fact that the equation had changed under the formula because West Indies had lost another wicket to what turned out to be the final ball of the match, altering the number of runs they required.

Had Denesh Ramdin not been leg before to Stuart Broad, West Indies' total of 244 for 6 would have put them one run ahead of England with 22 balls left. His dismissal put them one run behind. Dyson thought his side had won, in fact they had lost.

England, who had made 270 for 7 in their innings, might have won in any case if the match had gone the distance because the pendulum had shifted again. But given recent precedents it was more likely that they would have managed to foil themselves.

Some compassion can be shown for Dyson because he has done a sterling job in making West Indies tougher and all he wanted to do was win the game. And there the compassion ceases.

There was something appalling and depressing about the manner in which he urged the batsmen, Darren Sammy, who had yet to face a ball, and Nikita Miller, who had yet to take guard, from the square. He had sensed an opportunity to win and was going to take it.

But this blithely ignored the wider responsibilities. It had been a grand game watched by a joyful, characteristically Caribbean crowd and it did the heart good. There were many good things about the cricket played by both teams, not least the 26 runs plundered by Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the local hero, from a single over bowled by Stephen Harmison. It was electrifying.

Night was drawing in quickly but it was not dark. The umpires had to ensure the players' safety but that had not become an issue by the time they offered the light. The gripping conclusion to the Test match between Pakistan and England at Karachi in 2000 showed that big-time cricket can at a pinch be played in almost any light.

The crowd assumed West Indies had won, and it took a few minutes to check and recheck the charts to assure Dyson that he was wrong, by which time most of them had wandered off. It was an unsatisfactory, if fascinating, end to the game and England, the innocent parties, deserved to win as Dyson deserved to lose. It was not sharp practice but it was unsavoury.

The trick now for the tourists will be to build on the victory. They must have begun to think they were destined never to win this winter. Drubbed by India in the one-day series, they then lost a Test in Chennai that they had played well enough to win until the final day. In the Caribbean they were bowled out for 51 in the First Test, twice subsequently came within a hair's-breadth of victory and then collapsed calamitously in the solitary Twenty20 international.

If England can win the second one-dayer today, presumably by more orthodox means, they will be poised to win the series. The side is likely to be unchanged, and to drop Harmison because of one over would be harsh. There remains a worrying suspicion that his pace has deserted him, and if he can no longer bowl at 88 to 92mph, his effectiveness is negated. But before Chanderpaul tucked in, Harmison had at least acquitted himself adequately and after dropping one boundary catch, poor chap, he redeemed himself by snaffling another, removing the menacing Kieron Pollard.

Paul Collingwood, whose 69 made him man of the match though Dyson was the only real contender, said they had reached the stage where any win would do. Collingwood has become the latest player to rule himself out of leading England at home in the World Twenty20 in June, following Kevin Pietersen. "I had a year in the job and it would take a lot of persuading to do the job again," he said.

That may yet present a conundrum for England if Strauss is deemed not to be suitable for the shortest form of the game. He needs runs after returning to 50-over cricket but he will have been eminently relieved to win. Friday night in Providence might have changed everything.