What's significant about England-West Indies series?

Mar 09, 2014, 07:09 IST | Tony Cozier

Three ODIs between two struggling teams in the Caribbean were little more than an irrelevancy, writes Tony Cozier

In the overall scheme of things, three one-day internationals in the Caribbean between two struggling teams were little more than an irrelevancy. Cricket’s global attention was firmly and simultaneously focused on the heavyweight battle for Test supremacy on the other side of the Atlantic.

Nevertheless, their brief, low-profile contest, regarded as a prelude to the imminent World Twenty20 in Bangladesh as much as anything, was effectively as significant for England and West Indies as the showdown in South Africa was for the home team and Australia.

Disastrous tours
Both had been shaken by disastrous overseas series through the preceding four months. They needed an immediate boost to their sagging self-belief. England’s spirits had been devastated by the comprehensive 0-5 surrender of the Ashes in Australia. West Indies were humiliated in four defeats in five Tests, the two hurriedly arranged in India to ensure an emotional home farewell to Sachin Tendulkar’s celebrated career and two in three in New Zealand; three lasted less than three days.

Spectators enjoy the first ODI between West Indies and England at a swimming pool in Antigua on February 28. Pic/Getty Images.

There was further collateral damage for both. Jonathan Trott, England’s dependable No 3, undermined by depression, sought refuge back home after the first Test. Graeme Swann, their high quality off-spinner, chose to retire and abandon the tour half-way through. Alistair Cook was so overwhelmed by Australia’s menacing fast attack and his team’s demise that his future as captain was in doubt.

Kevin Pietersen, their most commanding batsman, was another belated, if inevitable, casualty, his international career finished after the tour by a management no longer able to deal with what it had long since identified as his disruptive influence.

For the West Indies, their board’s shambolic arrangements had the final ODI in India coinciding with the start of a warm-up match in New Zealand for which six borrowed locals had to make up the “West Indian XI”. The full complement arrived just three days prior to the first Test in Dunedin after a circuitous journey from Mumbai lasting 30 hours.

Injury crisis
By then, a strained hamstring had ruled out Chris Gayle. Marlon Samuels (a chronic wrist injury) would follow after the first of the seven short-format matches. Darren Bravo, whose second innings 218 had saved the team from defeat in the first Test, returned home at the same time “for personal reasons”. The crisis was evident when Test captain Darren Sammy declared “we just can’t go on like this” and predicted that some careers, including his own, were “on the line”. On arrival to take over for the ODI series, Dwayne Bravo said the problems could be sourced to a “lack of unity”.

In the circumstances, each team welcomed any crumb of cheer. The morsels were mostly England’s. Beaten by 15 runs in the first match through shortcomings that were a hangover from Australia, they were more resilient than their vulnerable opponents in the next two.

The margins were small (by three wickets when going after a meagre 159, by 25 runs when wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin gave them a scare with 128 off 109 balls after West Indies appeared utterly down and out). It didn’t matter to Stuart Broad, installed as captain in place of the absent Cook. “Winning helps your confidence and your belief, and to win in pressure scenarios in conditions that are a little bit foreign to us should help our belief,” he said. It was a small but important advance so soon after the Australian debacle.

England’s progress went beyond the 2-1 outcome. Joe Root, one of their several young hopes for the future, endured difficult times in Australia, dropped for the final Test after scraping together an average of 27 in the first four.

Century despite injury
He topped his resurgence with 107 in the last match in Antigua, disregarding the pain of a thumb broken early in the piece by a lifter from Ravi Rampaul to proceed to his maiden ODI hundred. The likelihood that he would miss the World Twenty20 as a result shouldn’t be a major setback.

He shared a fifth wicket partnership of 175 with Josh Buttler, another 23-year-old, that was the platform for the winning total of 303 for six, Buttler falling in the final over for 99. Root’s off-spin, cleverly used by Broad with the new ball on the slow, turners now typical of West Indies pitches, enhances his value; Buttler’s keeping and forthright batting make him a ready replacement for the aging, and declining, Matt Prior.

Left-hander Moen Ali, a consistent scorer for Worcestershire for some time and handy off-spinner, and Stephen Parry, a surprise choice as the sparingly used Lancashire left-arm spinner, were a couple of newcomers immediately at ease at the higher level. So too was an old-timer whose only previous appearances for England were in the shortest version. On his ODI debut in the opening match, left-hander Michael Lumb made his point with a dominant 106.

In contrast to such encouraging developments for England, West Indies had to rely on their tried and trusted. Their runs came from Dwayne Bravo, Lendl Simmons, Darren Sammy and, at the end, Ramdin, their wickets from Bravo and Sunil Narine.

The continuing disappointment was the faltering form of their young brigade. The stylish left-handers Kieron Powell, 23, and the younger Bravo, Darren, 25, could only raise 53 between them in the six innings; Jason Holder, the towering, 22-year-old fast bowler, was dropped after conceding 27 runs from seven overs in the first match. Sammy’s lament that “we just can’t go on like this” remained pertinent at the end.

Cricket writer and commentator Tony Cozier will write a fortnightly column for this newspaper

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