England’s enigmatic journey in this edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup continued as they beat West Indies by 18 runs in a fairytale finish at Chennai to keep alive their hopes of making the quarter finals. That hope will turn into reality if South Africa beat Bangladesh on Saturday or India beat West Indies on Sunday. Both the teams produced mediocre batting performances interspersed with a couple of brilliant cameos but England it was who held its nerve in the end and pipped their opponents at the post.
It seems that it is a guarantee that whenever England plays, the match would be a close one. In a do-or-die encounter, England won the toss and decided to bat first. Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior started steadily. Prior attacked left arm spinner Sulieman Benn with three fours in three overs while at the other end Strauss helped himself to a couple of boundaries against Kemar Roach. Bowling changes at both ends did not help West Indies as Andre Russell was punished for a short ball by Strauss and Darren Sammy was imperiously pulled over the midwicket boundary for six.
Russell however pulled things back for West Indies as he got Prior with a searing full length delivery that beat his defences. I haven’t seen a more aggressive Jonathan Trott than the one on view yesterday as he started off with six fours in his first nine balls, helped very much by the poor line that the West Indies bowlers adopted. Strauss, however, could not pull a short ball from Russell cleanly and the resultant top edge was taken by Chris Gayle. The introduction of debutant leg spinner Devendra Bishoo had an immediate impact as Trott, who until then was in sublime touch, threw his wicket away to the fielder at midwicket.
121/3 soon became 134/5 as Ian Bell’s stumps were sent flying by a full delivery from Roach and Eoin Morgan missed a reverse sweep and gloved the ball to wicket keeper Devon Thomas. When Russell had Ravi Bopara bowled off an inside edge, England had slid to 151/6 and looked set to exit from the World Cup. But Luke Wright, playing his first game in the World Cup, added 41 precious runs with James Tredwell also playing his first World Cup game, before Tredwell was run out. Useful contributions from Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann and Wright ensured England got to 243 before being all out. Russell picked 4/49 and Bishoo 3/34 in West Indies’ bowling effort. It was a good recovery from England and their World Cup hopes now hinged on the efforts of their bowlers.
Gayle straightaway went on the rampage in the chase as he hit four fours in one Bresnan over and followed that up with three fours and a massive six off Chris Tremlett. He knew that the pitch would get slower as the innings progressed, so anything that he could get with the new ball would be a big advantage. James Tredwell, however, got the breakthrough as he had Gayle leg before wicket. It was a big wicket for England and against the run of play. Tredwell had Devon Smith stumped by Prior in his next over. Darren Sammy, who had promoted himself up the order, went great guns with two fours off Bresnan and a six over long on off Tremlett.
Ravi Bopara had Sammy inside edging to his stumps off a ball that kept low in the 18th over and England were back in the hunt. Bopara got one more wicket in his next over as Devon Thomas too was dismissed off an inside edge and West Indies were now asking for trouble. Kieron Pollard had a big responsibility on his shoulders and successive sixes of Swann and Bopara showed he was up to the task. He was dismissed by a delivery from Swann that turned and struck him on the pads in front of the wicket. Andre Russell showed his all round capabilities in a partnership with Ramnaresh Sarwan that yielded 72 runs for West Indies. At 222/6 West Indies appeared to have the chase under control.
James Tredwell was not finished yet as he trapped Russell lbw for 49 to give England a semblance of a chance. That chance brightened when Swann got a double breakthrough in the 44th over. First, he had Sarwan pop the ball to short leg with a ball that bounced more and then had Tremlett take a low catch to see off Kemar Roach. As England built the pressure on the last pair with fielders all around the wicket, Sulieman Benn was run out by a smart throw from Trott to Prior who flashed away the stumps. England had won and kept their chances alive! West Indies had inexplicably lost their last four wickets for just three runs.
England finished their see-saw campaign on a high but will have to sit back in their hotel rooms and see what unfolds in the remaining matches. Even if they do enter the quarter finals, they have a lot of work to do especially in batting. They need to ask themselves the question whether a place in the quarter finals is deserved considering their performance so far. But the tournament would be that much more exciting if England were to be in the quarter finals, with a thriller guaranteed!
West Indies put up a shoddy batting performance with only Gayle, Sammy and Russell doing their bit with the bat. One cannot fathom why Sarwan was batting at No.6. He should have come in when Smith was dismissed. One cannot also understand why Russell suddenly went into a shell when he was playing attacking cricket. Losing 4 wickets for 3 runs when you need only 22 to win off 54 balls is just poor cricket. With the ball, West Indies could have done better with their lines during the phase when Trott was batting. It didn’t help that Benn had an off day as well. They will need to pull up their socks against India on Sunday at the same ground to make the last eight stage.