England win over West Indies a huge relief
When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping - so that's what I did.
As far as I was concerned, England's 243 would not be enough and when Chris Gayle smashed Tim Bresnan's first over for 18, it all looked pretty inevitable. Gayle is usually one of my favourite batsmen to watch, but this time I wasn't in the mood. Had it been an ODI in a bilateral series, I could happily have sat back and wallowed in some extravagant strokeplay, but watching him hammering nails into the coffin of England's World Cup was just going to be too painful. I wandered out to buy food for dinner and have a relaxing cup of coffee.
When I got home and checked the score on ESPNcricinfo, it was 204/6, which was still hopeless for England. I opened another tab and caught up on the news. Then I noticed that the score had flicked round to 223/9, which made it bearable to turn on the TV and watch the end. Knowing the result made it essential to watch the highlights later on to find out how the drama had unfolded.
What a relief! It's not that I care too much about the World Cup - to me, and to a large number of other England fans, retaining the Ashes was far more important than winning a one-day tournament, however prestigious – but I still don't want England eliminated embarrassingly. I generally like seeing Bangladesh do well, but on this occasion I think I can be excused for hoping that South Africa thrash them and put English qualification beyond doubt. After all the tensions of England's actual matches, the last thing I need is to be on tenterhooks all weekend waiting on India beating West Indies.
At least the management have rid themselves of their superstition about the need for Jimmy Anderson's run-leaking and have acknowledged that Paul Collingwood's form has been left down the back of his sofa at home. I'm also pleased that they have seen sense and stopped believing in Michael Yardy as a second spinner: Yardy is a very useful cricketer whose slow-medium bowling works quite well in T20, but he is not worth ten overs in the longer format.
England have a pleasantly large pool of quality bowlers, which made replacing Anderson easy. Collingwood's bowling has always been extremely handy, though, and Strauss has hitherto shown little confidence in Ravi Bopara as a fifth/sixth bowler. This was a tougher decision, but when Bopara removed Darren Sammy he probably inked his name on the team sheet for some time to come.
Whether these personnel changes will bring any more consistency to the team's performance remains unknown. The only constant so far, to my chagrin, has been Jonathan Trott, whom I nominated a while back as my least favourite England player.
I suppose his lengthy stays at the crease have had the saving grace that they have afforded me the opportunity to refine my dislike. At least he acknowledges the shorter format by being not quite as meticulous with his crease excavations, but now I know why I wish he were someone else.
I don't have a problem with his strike rate. His job is to keep the runs ticking over while he acts as an anchor, a job which Rahul Dravid did with considerable success for India. Dravid was frequently blamed for India losing an ODI, the contention being that he was putting too much pressure on the other batsmen – once memorably described as “using up all the hot water” and adopted as group-speak ever after - which always pained me because I am a big fan of his. That I dislike Trott should not prevent me allowing him the same latitude, and it does not.
One may well feel after his regulation half-century that it would be better if he had scored another ten in the time he had at the crease, but criticising his strike rate is rather like criticising a driver who keeps to the speed limit. If the team's game plan revolves around a reliable backbone, then it's the rest of the batsmen whose job is to hit the big shots, and you can't blame the anchor for them not fulfilling their part of the bargain any more than one can blame Graeme Swann for not bowling more maidens if the pace bowlers foul up.
I now know that what irks me about Trott is that he plays everything possible, and quite a bit of the improbable, into the leg side. There are fine strokes to the leg: the on-drive and hook can be magnificent. But they are played with the batsman standing tall while Trott hunches his shoulders over the ball for the nudge, the push and the nurdle. It's undeniably effective and he is very successful with it, but attractive it isn't.
In the grand scheme of things, this is no more significant than my detestation of parsnips or a feeling that the Mission Impossible movies would have been better with Johnny Depp instead of Tom Cruise, and I shall be very happy if Trott crabs his way to a match-winning hundred in the World Cup final. Just don't ask me to enjoy it.