Wrecker Bopara builds a platform for hearty Hales as England romp

West Indies 125 England 128-0 (England win by 10 wickets)
Click to follow
The Independent Online

At this rate England, as they used to say at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, will have more stars than there are in heaven.

Following the style and example of Jonny Bairstow a week earlier, Alex Hales last night illuminated proceedings with a dazzling exhibition of efficient and fearless strokes.

His unbeaten 62 from 48 balls helped to ensure that England won the first of the two Twenty20 matches against West Indies – did it not used to be rugby which had autumn internationals? – with no fuss and plenty of gusto. The margin was 10 wickets with 28 balls still left, a crushing T20 victory by any known standards.

Hales is 22, and at 6ft 5in is on the tall side for a batsman. His first appearance for England a month ago ended in a two-ball duck in Manchester. Disconcerted by this experience he was not, stepping on the gas at the start last night and then easing off to cruise mode. He did not have his feet up on the dashboard with a glass of champagne in one hand and an index finger on the other gently touching the steering wheel, but it felt like it under the floodlights.

The partnership of 128 between Hales and Craig Kieswetter, whose unbeaten 58 came from 49 balls, was England's highest in Twenty20 internationals. It was not the only record here against a West Indies side barely fit for purpose, as Ravi Bopara recorded England's best T20 bowling figures of 4 for 10.

Many great things were expected of Bopara in international cricket. Breaking bowling records with his regular irregular seam bowling never featured among them, but he brought to a shuddering halt an innings that was already going nowhere.

It was thus an unbridled triumph for England's stand-in captain, Graeme Swann, who had never led a cricket team since his days in Northamptonshire second XI, and at the toss struggled to remember the composition of his team. Small wonder perhaps.

Of the XI that became world champions 16 months and but seven matches ago, only three played last night. Three others were appearing for the first time. England have clearly decided that if they are to defend their title in Sri Lanka next September, when the weather should be a trifle more humid, they need the fresh, unfettered legs and minds of youth.

The Oval's wicket was dry, taking turn, and the night unseasonally warm – at first, that is – making it seem as though the England and Wales Cricket Board, rather than having shoehorned in this mini-series to meet the obligations of its broadcasting rights, had made a scheduling masterstroke.

Still, they are used to getting it in the neck. Jim Cumbes, chief executive of Lancashire, had berated them earlier yesterday for failing to provide an Ashes Test north of Trent Bridge in 2015.

Briefly, Swann might have been perplexed. After two quiet overs at the start, West Indies through Dwayne Smith launched an assault and 37 runs came from two overs. But the introduction of spin quietened them down and, although a later over from Swann was despatched for 17, West Indies were otherwise pinned down.

England's fielding could hardly have been sharper and the target was always within their reach. Hales and Kieswetter took advantage of the early powerplay overs, freeing their arms and hitting over the in-field. It was not always pretty but Swann had made the point the previous day that some of these players had been brought up on a diet of T20. That means they know what they are doing.

West Indies made elementary mistakes, and were always chasing the game. But not for long. Kieswetter finished it with a four off the second ball of the 16th over.

Comments