A few too many wickets fell for them to be completely cock-a-hoop, but England’s introduction to the T20 World Cup fell not far short of perfection as they skittled the defending champions for 55 before securing victory with 70 balls and six wickets to spare. “It’s as good as it gets, to start a tournament like that,” Eoin Morgan said.
Their performance in the field had been so good the occasional stumble in the chase hardly mattered, West Indies’ feared batting lineup having been remorselessly shredded.
England were able to bat with little but thoughts of the net run rate to bother them, shuffling Dawid Malan down the order as they sought the few mighty blows that would bring the encounter to a rapid conclusion.
Nobody was quite able to provide them and after Jason Roy was flummoxed by Ravi Rampaul’s slower ball Jonny Bairstow chipped back to Akeal Hosein, Moeen Ali was run out attempting to force an unnecessary single and Liam Livingstone also returned the ball to Hosein, albeit at considerable pace and forcing the bowler into a wonderful catch diving to his left.
At this stage 14 batters had fallen for 94 runs on a surface Kieron Pollard, the West Indies captain, went on to describe as “a good wicket to bat on” with “no demons in it”.
What all of this stumbling meant was that while it was Jos Buttler who hit the winning runs Morgan was in the middle when the match concluded, which only seemed appropriate given the extent of his impact across the evening.
It began at the toss, which felt like a significant moment at the time, and perhaps despite the overwhelming style and margin of victory it still was. Both captains had spoken in advance of the potential benefits of batting second given the potential impact of dew as night drew in, but the biggest benefit was probably less to do with conditions on the pitch than those in the players’ heads.
There can be no less forgiving place to overcome the nerves that must jangle even for the most experienced of international sportspeople – and West Indies have a few of those – in the opening moments of a major tournament than in the middle with a bat in your hands. Whatever the cause, there were cracks in their composure as the innings started, and England proceeded to lever them into chasms.
West Indies had won all their five previous meetings with England at the Twenty20 World Cup, including the first and final matches at the last event, nel 2016. England have transformed their standing in the short-form game since 2015 but to these particular opponents and in this particular format they had remained easy meat. In the space of a few minutes here talk turned from bunnies to rabbits in headlights.
Nel 14 overs and two balls that England spent in the field there was barely a plan that did not work, scarcely a trap that was not wandered into.
Much has been made of Morgan’s loss of form with the bat, with England’s captain forced to answer questions in the build-up to this game about whether he might at some stage have to drop himself. On nights like this there is scarcely a team in world cricket that his brain would not saunter into, whether or not it could boast good form, a bat or for that matter a host body.
At times his decision-making seemed genuinely blessed. Chris Woakes, Tymal Mills – the team’s one genuine pace bowler with Mark Wood absent with an apparently minor injury to his left ankle – and Chris Jordan took wickets in their opening overs, before Adil Rashid – who finished with the outrageous figures of four wickets for two runs off 14 deliveries– outdid them all by bowling Andre Russell with his first delivery of the night.
Moeen, who had bowled one over or fewer in nine of his past dozen T20s, sent down four of the first seven and of those 24 deliveries 18 were dots and two brought wickets, a spell that defined the match. Moeen, who opened the bowling, disse: “I wasn’t as nervous as some of the other guys.”
After four dots and a single Evin Lewis heaved the last delivery down the ground for six. This fitted perfectly into the West Indies template, which involves making up for the dots by scoring the most maximums in the global game. There would be no more sixes, but plenty of batsmen falling in search of them.
“It’s not something that we’re proud of as a team, the way we got out, but I’m not going into what it is or how it is,” said Pollard. “Getting bowled out for 50-odd as an international team is unacceptable.
“As long as we have life, we have an opportunity to do things better. Because we’ve been demolished doesn’t mean there’s going to be wholesale changes, we just need to bin it and move on. If you try to dig too much into it, you might find some things you don’t really want to.”