England relieved to begin new era with narrow win over the University of West Indies Vice-Chancellor's XI

 

Antigua

The brave new world began with a victory. It was not much of one, it may barely rate a mention in dispatches once the dust has eventually settled. But when a team has spent the winter as bereft of success as England anything will do.

A little more may be known of what can be expected in this strangely refashioned era after the foray in the Caribbean, more still after the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh. But not until the end of the two-Test series against Sri Lanka at home this summer will anything be truly certain.

Indeed, it may not be until the 2015 Ashes that the upshot of the recent dramatic changes to the landscape is fully realised. As the former Chinese Premier, Chou En-lai, said when asked in the early 1970s about the impact of the French Revolution almost two centuries before: "Too soon to say."

Of course, the way things have gone lately, there was a chance that England might muck things up against opponents as unsung as the University of West Indies Vice-Chancellor's XI. In the event, it was hardly convincing despite Joe Root's well-appointed hundred.

The tourists made 290 for 8, more than a serviceable total on a sluggish surface and restricted the opposition to 261 for 7, which was expanded by the match's second hundred from Karl Corbin, an underachieving Barbadian. Only towards the end of the chase when there were a few too many big shots for England's liking, was there briefly doubt. A win was what mattered at this stage.

In all probability, England did not have time once to think of the sacked Kevin Pietersen. There will be plenty of time for missing him – or not, as it may be – in the long months ahead.

Root, one of those who has been entrusted with assuming the mantle, scored a century that was as overdue as it was welcome. He was tired and showing it towards the end of the disastrous tour of Australia. After more than a year of virtually non-stop international cricket he needed a break. Three weeks spent in Sheffield might have been just the ticket.

As a limited-overs batsman, Root seems decidedly limited. He plays infrequently off the front foot, he hits none of the big shots which are the currency of the modern boomers. He was hampered, too, by the ball stopping a little in the pitch, so that fluency was elusive.

But he surveyed the scene throroughly, managed to scamper plenty of singles and accelerated with some urgency towards the end. His first fifty took 68 balls, his second 35, which is the way round it should be. He struck only nine fours.

There was a half-century, too, for another of the young guns in what is effectively England's Twenty20 side masquerading in 50-over colours for the first half of this brief tour. Ben Stokes clubbed four sixes in his innings of 59, using the direction of the wind judiciously to ensure they cleared the rope.

That was a feature of the England side led by Paul Collingwood in the 2010 World Twenty20 in the Caribbean which they won in grand style. Among other bits of excellent preparation they judged the breeze to perfection. Things have never been quite the same since in England's T20 organisation. It may be no coincidence that Collingwood is with England on this trip as assistant coach.

After the Vice-Chancellor's XI made a brisk and competent enough start against the two new balls the advent of James Tredwell was telling. Starting with his first ball, all but a long hop which Chadwick Walton drilled to long on, Tredwell took three quick wickets, all of them caught by Chris Jordan, two at long on, one at second slip.

Intermittently, there was a big shot played by Corbin, whose 105 from 101 balls ensured that it was rather more than middle practice for England, who just about managed to avoid being rattled. If the Vice-Chancellor's XI was naturally short of illustrious names – though the former Test opener Adrian Barath scored a typically composed 32 – they had one of the biggest of all as one of their coaches for the day.

Curtly Ambrose, once the scourge of all batsmen, will return to the ground on Friday to be awarded a knighthood from the Antiguan government, according to a report in the Daily Observer.

Along with fellow islanders, Andy Roberts and Richie Richardson he is to receive the honour during the first one-day international at the Sir Viv Richards Stadium. This is one honour below that of Order of National Hero, of which Sir Viv is also a member.

It promises to be quite an occasion, with all 17 Antiguans capped by West Indies taking part in a parade. The series is being billed as We v Them and England may still need all the help going.

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