@Yas_Wisden 4 minute read
The bricks of England’s post-World Cup rebuild were tentatively laid in Antigua with a four-wicket defeat to a less than full strength West Indies that provided some causes for optimism, while also highlighting familiar frailties that hampered their miserable World Cup campaign in India.
Here are six talking points from their defeat in the first ODI at Antigua.
England struggle to find the balance between aggression and accumulation
England’s final score of 325 doesn’t given an accurate representation of the rhythm of England’s innings. The pitch was two-paced and the bounce was variable; when the bowlers – in particular the spinners – got it right, runs were hard to come by.
Phil Salt jetted England up to 70 off the opening seven overs as Romario Shepherd in particular was harshly dealt with, conceding 34 from his first three overs. Gudakesh Motie then accounted for Salt, who chipped tamely to cover to continue his longstanding trouble against left-arm spin. One quickly became two as an Alzarri Joseph snorter sent Will Jacks on his way for 26.
As West Indies exerted more control in the middle overs, wickets followed. Ben Duckett, Zak Crawley, Jos Buttler and Liam Livingstone all fell in the middle overs. Duckett was perhaps undone by the slowness of the pitch, missing a lap-sweep off Yannick Cariah, before Crawley was run out for 48 after a mix-up with Harry Brook. Crawley should have fallen on 31, however, with Motie shelling a straightforward chance at long-on after the England No. 3 failed to get hold of a slog sweep, one ball after hitting Cariah for four. Livingstone was blameless in his dismissal, departing after a delivery shot low from Shepherd.
That stream of wickets left England six down in the 39th over and in serious jeopardy of failing to make the most of their excellent start. It should also have been much worse had West Indies been sharper in the field. The excellent 66-run eighth-wicket stand between Sam Curran and Brydon Carse bailed out the top order; there was an absence in top order players taking responsibility in ensuring that their rapid start was capitalised on, in a way that was contrasted with how Virat Kohli, for instance, accumulated quickly but in a risk-free manner after India’s similarly fast-scoring powerplays at the World Cup. There is a reluctance to take innings deep in a way that West Indies – and some of the fastest scorers at the World Cup – did.
Brook reigns it in
Brook, meanwhile, was notably more watchful compared to his World Cup outings where he was dismissed between 10 and 25 in four of his first five knocks at the tournament. Here, he accumulated at a steady pace and was a notably superior strike-rotator than Crawley during their 71-run fourth-wicket stand. He let loose against the leg-spin of Cariah who too often erred in length and hardly offered an opportunity before chipping a Joseph slower ball to mid-off. At the innings break, Brook noted that the nature of the surface forced him to reign in on his natural instincts, but also that the rhythm of his ODI batting was something that he had been working on. That work is beginning to bear fruit in what was his most mature ODI innings to date.
Curran and Carse to the rescue…with the bat
325 could easily have been 260 all out were it not for the excellent eighth-wicket partnership between Curran and Carse. Carse’s batting has come a long way in recent years, so much so that he now averages more than 30 in first-class cricket, and that improvement was on display in spades. England’s Nos. 8 and 9 cashed in at the death. It was a reminder of one of the strengths of England limited overs sides since 2015 – their enviable batting depth.
The Sam Curran conundrum
Curran was excellent with the bat but desperately disappointing with the ball. Today was a decent illustration of the conundrum England face in using Curran in ODI cricket. He made crucial lower order runs but was once more expensive with the new ball as Alick Athanaze took a particular liking to Curran’s innocuous opening spell. Concerningly for the all-rounder, he was unable to haul things back at the death – his traditional forté. At this point in his career Curran is simply not a dependable enough 10-over option to occupy one of England’s five bowling spots. The prospect of him walking in at eight is tantalising but given England’s already imposing depth with Rehan Ahmed coming at 10, Curran’s batting prowess is a luxury. His figures of 0-98 were England’s most expensive ever in a men’s ODI. Is he someone England want to build their side around?
Rehan Ahmed, comfortably England’s standout bowler
There is always the danger of overburdening young talent with unrealistic expectations, but Rehan Ahmed’s development is on a trajectory even the most balanced pundits can’t help but get excited by. Just 19 years old, there is already a tangible improvement in his game since his international debut last December. He now has much more confidence in his leg-break, which has the two-fold effect of expanding the variety of weapons in his armoury while also making his lethal wrong-un harder to anticipate. Rehan was the standout England bowler. With a Test tour in India, the IPL and a T20 World Cup in the Caribbean all on the horizon, this could be the start of a life-changing few months.
Shai Hope masterclass gets hosts over the line
As lacklustre as England were in parts, West Indies needed a magnificent knock from their captain Shai Hope to get them over the line and Romario Shepherd more than playing his part in keeping the required rate in check. Hope likes to take games deep and is too often left stranded by his teammates. On this occasion, with ample support as West Indies kept wickets in hand, Hope was able to go through the gears to eventually seal the game with seven balls to spare. It was his 16th – and fastest – ODI hundred.
Subscribe to the Wisden Cricket YouTube channel for post-match analysis, player interviews, and much more.