Eoin Morgan led the way with a fine century to help England register a 45-run victory in their opening one-day international against West Indies.
With just under three months before the start of the Champions Trophy, the form of England’s limited-overs captain, whose innings of 107 was his second century in three ODI innings – and the streetwise way his team adapted to a challenging surface bodes well.
England’s batting in 50-over cricket since the nadir of the 2015 World Cup, which they exited at the first stage, has been characterised by relentless and aggressive clean hitting.
The surface at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, though, required rather more finesse, even if some late blows from Ben Stokes, who struck 55 in his first international since landing a £1.7million Indian Premier League deal last week, was more in tune with this side’s natural approach.
Morgan’s 10th one-day international hundred was
an innings that, along with half-centuries from Stokes and Sam Billings, helped England recover from 29 for two to eventually post 296 for six.
However, Morgan’s efforts with the bat were far from straightforward. As well as being dropped on four and surviving a missed stumping on 69, he had a more worrying scare on 48 when he was struck on the back of the head by Shannon Gabriel.
The short ball that hit Morgan had disturbing echoes of the delivery that fatally struck Australian batsman Phillip Hughes in November 2014.
Thankfully Morgan was wearing a Stem Guard, the attachment brought in to protect batsmen after the death of Hughes, and he needed nothing more than some lengthy treatment before he could resume an innings that proved match winning.
England’s total always looked enough on a surface that had been spiced up by early-morning rain.
And so it proved as the West Indies were dismissed for 251 in 47.2 overs.
Surprisingly the tourists dismissed their opponents without turning to Stokes at all – Morgan’s reluctance to use the IPL’s latest millionaire a mystery given England confirmed he has no fitness concerns whatsoever.
In the end four wickets each from Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett proved enough to seal victory even if the result was closer than England would have hoped after they had reduced their opponents to 39 for three early on and then 108 for four in the 25th over of the reply.
Half-centuries from Jonathan Carter and Jason Mohammed during an 82-run fifth-wicket stand had revived West Indies hopes.
Yet despite only needing 96 runs from the final 10 overs, they were never really in danger of overhauling England’s total.
Morgan’s side will face far tougher challenges this year than a weakened West Indies who failed to even qualify for the Champions Trophy.
Yet they have done what was required in this game and will expect to do the same in the remaining two matches of the series back here in Antigua on Sunday and Barbados next Thursday.
England, asked to bat after losing the toss, did well to recover from 29 for two after Gabriel removed Jason Roy and Joe Root in successive overs with deliveries that kept devilishly low.
That brought Morgan to the crease in the eighth over and alongside Sam Billings, in at the top of the order while Alex Hales recovers from a broken right hand, the third-wicket pair put on 67.
This match was an opportunity for Billings to state his case for a Champions Trophy place. Yet after posting only his second ODI half-century, he gave it away on 52, flicking off-spinner Ashley Nurse casually to short midwicket.
That saw England’s recovery checked on 96 for three in the 22nd over.
But West Indies will rue dropping Morgan on four, Kieran Powell at slip the guilty party after Carlos Brathwaite’s first ball induced the edge.
England were 129 for four in the 29th over when Jos Buttler, continuing his poor form from the limited-overs tour of India, was caught at slip on 14 off Nurse.
Morgan’s hundred had come with a towering six off Brathwaite in the 48th over.
By then Stokes had registered his sixth ODI half-century in nine innings, his six off the final ball of the 40th over, hammering Jason Mohammed over long on, starting the charge that saw England score exactly 100 off the final 10 overs.
That owed much to the momentum gained by Morgan’s 110-run stand with Stokes that helped propel England towards a total that proved enough to win.
West Indies were always behind in the chase after Woakes and Plunkett shared three wickets in 15 balls to remove Evin Lewis, Powell and Kraigg Brathwaite.
All hope for the hosts seemed to have gone when wicketkeeper Shai Hope slashed Adil Rashid to backward point midway through the innings.
West Indies did work their way back into the contest. Yet the wickets of Carter and Jason Holder in successive overs from Plunkett and then the run-out of Mohammed on 72 by Steven Finn ended any realistic chance they had of winning.Reuse content