Somehow England regrouped yesterday. It took a little help from the weather and the umpires but mostly they helped themselves. After the wretchedness of Friday which brought the team to a new low the tourists dug deep – they probably needed an excavator – and produced a measured display to win the fourth one-day international against the West Indies
The series stands at 2-2 with all to play for in St Lucia on Friday, if that much is ever at stake in this kind of competition. West Indies made a serviceable if hardly imposing 239 for nine from their 50 overs when rain intervened to leave England needing 135 from 20 overs under Duckworth Lewis. Accelerating at the appropriate moments and crucially keeping wickets in hand they managed to reach the target with nine balls to spare, having lost only one wicket. Their captain Andrew Strauss was the main contributor as he has been for most of this tour. His unbeaten 79 from 61 balls was a model of a batsman playing to his strengths and a tribute to cussedness.
"The ball is coming out of the middle of the bat well," said Strauss. "As captain it's up to me to lead from the front and the more I do that, the more matches we will win." One more on Friday would do for the time being.
England arrived at Kensington Oval in a beleaguered state, approaching the end of a long, losing trip and having just suffered one of their most painful defeats. Suspicions were being whispered that their best batsman and former captain is at odds with the rest of the team, they are without a full-time coach. England were desperate.
It was vital for England to contain their rampant opposition. That made it a risk to invite the West Indies to bat, but equally it was all the tourists could do. If there was to be any movement it was likely to be in the early stages. There was indeed movement but almost all of it came from West Indian bats propelling the ball at pace to the boundary. With Chris Gayle striking another five sixes at will it did not augur well for a touring squad that was under the closest scrutiny.
To England's credit they did not panic, they waited for a breach and when it came they managed a cluster of wickets. Dwayne Bravo's classy innings gave West Indies more than they might have accrued at 145 for six but England at least could be satisfied that they were firmly in the game.
In Dimitri Mascarenhas they had the bowler of the match. Niggling away just outside off stump, changing his pace, he was never dominated, and it was a bonus that he removed the exceedingly dangerous Shiv Chanderpaul.
Kevin Pietersen suffered a back spasm while bowling but there was evidence that the spasm was receding as quickly as it appeared and he should be available for the decider. The team's other marquee player, Andrew Flintoff, injured his left thumb in attempting to take a return catch. An initial scan revealed no fracture but with an important match ahead England's preparation is unlikely to be smooth. It has been that kind of winter.
It was probably in England's favour that two hours of unseasonal rain reduced the number of overs they had to bat. On the other hand they are rubbish in conventional Twenty20 cricket. Strauss and, to a lesser extent, Ravi Bopara were excellent. They needed a flying start and for the first time this series they left the ground. Strauss hit fours on both sides of the wicket and in the 14th over, wonder of wonders, struck a six, only England's second of the series compared to the West Indies' 23. He had one stroke of good fortune when he appeared to have been caught behind by Ramdin, attempting to run a ball to third man. But Strauss was uncertain whether it had carried and so was the umpire, Steve Bucknor. The square leg umpire Steve Davis could not confirm either and Bucknor signalled for assistance. It was his final match of an outstanding career and characteristic that, till the end, he was determined to be fair.
Strauss saw it through. Bopara, who had joined him in what amounted to a six hitting spree by England's standards with a towering effort into the mid-wicket stand, perished going for another. Not even England could blow it from here. With nine balls left Strauss nurdled his ninth four and they were home. It was not quite a conventional win but convention is not England's forte.
England won toss
West Indies Innings
C H Gayle c Prior b Broad ......... 46
L M P Simmons run out ......... 29
R R Sarwan b Flintoff ......... 6
S Chanderpaul c Prior b Mascarenhas ......... 27
D Ramdin c Flintoff b Mascarenhas ......... 26
D J Bravo c Sub b Broad ......... 69
K A Pollard c Flintoff b Mascarenhas ......... 0
D J G Sammy b Broad ......... 6
N O Miller not out ......... 10
F H Edwards c Collingwood b Anderson ......... 0
L S Baker not out ......... 11
Extras w7 nb2 ......... 9
Total (50 overs) ......... 239
Fall: 1-72 2-76 3-83 4-126 5-143 6-145 7-173 8-224 9-225
Bowling: Anderson 10-1-41-1; Broad 10-0-62-3; Flintoff 9-0-58-1; Harmison 8-0-42-0; Mascarenhas 10-1-26-3; Pietersen 0.5-0-0-0; Shah 1.1-0-6-0; Collingwood 1-0-4-0.
West Indies Innings
*A J Strauss not out ......... 79
R S Bopara c Miller b Pollard ......... 35
M J Prior not out......... 14
Total (for 1; 18.3 overs) ......... 136
Did not bat: K P Pietersen, O A Shah, P D Collingwood, A Flintoff, A D Mascerenhas, S C J Broad, S J Harmison, J M Anderson
Bowling: Baker 2-0-24-0; Edwards 3-0-24-0; Bravo 3.3-0-22-0; Sammy 4-0-31-0; Pollard 4-0-20-1; Miller 2-0-12-0
Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) and S J Davis (Aus).