After crashing at the World Cup England’s white-ball side, like a malfunctioning laptop, has been turned off and on again, rebooted and updated, but when it was time to press restart they suffered another malfunction.
After setting a record ODI score on this ground they proved powerless as West Indies bettered it with seven balls to spare to win by four wickets, and as the batting of their captain, Jos Buttler, continues to suggest major programming errors it was his opposite number, Shai Hope, who steered his team to victory.
Hope eased past the mark of 5,000 ODI runs on his way to a superb, match-defining century, stabilising his side through the middle overs before accelerating to the target of 326. He sealed the win by blasting three sixes off four Sam Curran deliveries as England’s bowling turned ragged in the final stages, before declaring it the finest of his 119 innings, and 16 centuries, in the format.
“It’s probably at the top,” he said. “It most definitely gives us confidence for the rest of the series. We have to believe. We’ve prepared well enough. We know we put the work in, and it’s only a matter of time before these performances start to click. I see progress, but we need to repeat it next time.”
For all Hope’s calm and quality West Indies seemed to be drifting towards defeat until the arrival at the crease of Romario Shepherd shifted the game in their favour. The all-rounder set England’s heads spinning as he scored 48 off 28, with Curran and Brydon Carse both losing control under the pressure he and Hope exerted. Curran in particular took terrible punishment, and his last three overs went for 19, 15 and 19 again – the last with a ball unbowled. He conceded a record number of runs (98) by an Englishman in an ODI.
So much for the new dawn. It had fallen to Phil Salt and Will Jacks, two players deemed insufficiently important to merit central contracts but promised the opening berths for the duration of this series, to launch England’s intended rebirth, and they threw themselves at the challenge with promising aggression. It was their third opening partnership, and all three sit in the top 10 – out of 33 in total – of England’s best of the last two years.
Salt in particular tore into Oshane Thomas and Alzarri Joseph, West Indies’ opening bowlers, as England scored 76 without loss in the first eight overs. But then they started losing wickets and with them momentum, and in their second eight overs added 34 at 4.25 an over, losing three wickets along the way. Zak Crawley and Harry Brook stabilised the innings, the former benefiting from Gudakesh Motie’s terrible if sun-blinded drop at long on to reach 48 before being very emphatically run out to bring Buttler to the crease.
In his past eight innings Buttler has scored 78 runs at an average of 9.75 and a strike rate of 75.72. Here he scored three off 13, taking a few easy singles before attempting a reverse weep off Motie and gloving the ball to Alick Athanaze at slip, who juggled it into the air before taking it at the second attempt. By the time the ball finally dropped into his hands Buttler had already tucked his bat under his arm and started his trudge to the dressing room.
“I feel good, I just keep managing to get out,” Buttler said. “It’s disappointing, frustrating, and it’s gone on a lot longer than I’d have liked, but there’s only myself who can score my own runs. I’m not going to score any if I hide away and don’t get out there. You keep working hard, you keep putting the effort in, and trust that it will turn around.”
His was the only outright failure on England’s scorecard, Brook top-scoring with 71 off 72 and Curran and Carse, in particular, scoring useful late runs – albeit not quite as useful as those they leaked towards the end of West Indies’ reply. A total of 325 felt like enough on a slightly awkward, turning pitch.
But Brandon King and the excellent Athanaze launched the home side’s reply with no suggestion of concern. Athanaze, at 24 one of a fresh generation being perhaps belatedly ushered into the West Indies team, hit nine fours and two sixes, one of them a pull of vicious perfection that sent the ball soaring into the car park, on his way to 66 off 65 and an opening stand of 104.
But as in the first innings the openers fell in successive overs and following their departures, and the arrival of Rehan Ahmed and Liam Livingstone’s spin that precipitated them, the scoring slowed and the required run rate climbed. The game seemed to be ebbing away from them but they never surrendered their composure. Eventually Hope and Shepherd took control, the boundary tally started to mount, and it was England who lost theirs.