England worked their socks off on Sunday to attain their default position of losing. But somehow, try as they might, their propensity for mucking things up in style was not quite up to scratch for once and they hobbled to victory against West Indies by three wickets to leave the one-day series level at 1-1 with one match to play.
It was the performance of a team who had forgotten how to win and were not quite sure that this was their objective in life. Chasing a meagre 160 after a bowling performance which stifled their opponents and brought a man-of-the-match award for the Lancashire left-arm spinner Stephen Parry on his debut, they faltered badly in mid-innings to lose four wickets for 10 runs.
That left them at 89 for six but to suggest that they held their nerve thereafter to reach the line would be a slight exaggeration.
A run out at 105, caused partly by English daftness, partly by West Indian brilliance, left them still with much to do and with four overs of the mystifying spinner Sunil Narine to negotiate.
Their captain Stuart Broad then lived as dangerously as is possible without actually surrendering your wicket. He survived (rightly) a review after he was given out caught behind, offered three catching chances and even when victory was in sight almost contrived to run himself out.
Fortunately, a neat, almost serenely calm innings by Ravi Bopara, playing in his 101st one-day international, was exactly what was required. Bopara, in a way he had not always done in his previous hundred matches, surveyed the scene, weighed his options and recognised that with plenty of overs and a small target simple crease occupation would do the trick. For once he did not try anything risky although there was the occasional flash of delight, in particular one cover drive for four off Darren Sammy, which has too often kept concealed on the biggest stage. His unbeaten 38 from 59 balls was invaluable both in the context of the match and England’s uncertain progress since last summer.
Broad said: “It should give the changing room a tremendous amount of confidence and belief because we haven’t won two games in a row since July. That’s almost why you play sport. It’s why it’s awesome. It could have gone either way.
“We rode a bit of luck but ended up coming out in top and I would have been very disappointed to be sitting here 2-0 down after our bowling performance. Our spinners always looked dangerous, we took wickets regularly and our fielding reflected the hard work we’ve done on that.”
The batting of both sides in this brief series has been short of the necessary standard so far, a litany of errors caused by callowness, stupidity or both. England, packed with spinners, played the conditions superbly, however, and their fielding was as assured as it has been in any match this winter.
One catch in particular, by James Tredwell, sticking out his right hand at slip, was outstanding. Tredwell must fool many a batsman by his complete lack of athletic gait but he fields with alacrity and again bowled cannily.
Parry helped to tie up the middle of the innings and took three wickets in the process, including that of the Lendl Simmons, the match’s top scorer, who he had caught on the boundary the ball after hitting a six. If that wicket was important, so was that of the West Indies captain, Dwayne Bravo, which was also controversial.
Bravo wandered down the wicket to Tredwell, was deceived in flight and should have been stumped by a country mile. Jos Buttler, however, dropped the ball as he removed the bails and was lucky to have the decision upheld. It was not clear whether it was ball or gloves which touched the stumps first.
England lost Moeen Ali to a piece of carelessness as he pulled into the wind and then a hapless Luke Wright who was out of his depth for an over against Narine before he was bowled. When Michael Lumb and Joe Root developed a partnership, however, England were cruising.
But Lumb was lbw stuck on the crease, Root, pushed one back to the bowler rather limply, Buttler was out first ball, feathering a bouncer, and Ben Stokes walked after gloving one on to his pad. When Tim Bresnan was run out after Bravo pulled off a spectacular stop and throw, the batsman making the mistake of thinking it had sizzled past, chaos loomed once more.
Broad lived perilously in playing some needless attacking strokes but he survived intact.
Bopara looked nothing less than composed and England had won their second match in the winter, with 31 balls to spare.
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