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Victory in the Twenty20, led by Alex Hales, capped a fine start to the season by England who continue to find new matchwinners
George Dobell at Trent Bridge
June 24, 2012
It is true that sterner tests await, but the first portion of England's summer could hardly have gone better. Victorious in Tests, ODIs and their only Twenty20 international, they have once again made decent opposition look deceptively poor. Whatever their issues in Asian conditions, England remain desperately tough to beat in their own backyard.
Their Test success was not, perhaps, surprising. West Indies were lacking several senior players and, in these conditions, England were always likely to prove too strong. Still, it is worth remembering how England struggled in the winter. No victory should be taken for granted.
But the limited-overs success is particularly impressive. West Indies, blessed with the return of most of their leading payers, looked strong and confident and England were forced to confront a series of unforeseen challenges. The sudden retirement of Kevin Pietersen, for example, could have unsettled both the ODI and the T20I teams.
Instead England adapted with admirable aplomb. Indeed, such was the way that Ian Bell embraced opening in ODIs and Alex Hales flourished in this T20I that Pietersen's departure left barely a ripple. There will, no doubt, be times in the months ahead when he is sorely missed - talents like Pietersen are rare and precious - but it is testament to the strength of the entire England set-up - the county game, the Lions, the England team management, the success of the three-captain experiment et al. - that such a blow can be born so lightly.
"It is an inexperienced batting line-up," Stuart Broad, England's Twenty20 captain admitted afterwards, "but with inexperience you also get fearlessness. Guys just go out and hit the ball. Chasing 170 is quite daunting, but I don't think we ever had any negative thoughts in our mind. We just expected to get it; 170, on that wicket, was very gettable, and we had guys left in the changing room who could have won that game.
"On paper we would all have looked at their line-up, with Gayle and Smith and Samuels and Bravo and Narine all successful in the IPL, and thought of them as favourites. So to have won in the manner we did was hugely pleasing.
"We have guys who are consistently performing on the county circuit and it is good to see them step-up and do it on the international stage as well. It's great to see young players come into the team and perform. It's a sign of the team developing that you give guys responsibility and they really grab their opportunities."
There were some areas of concern for England. Jade Dernbach's last two overs cost 33 runs; Craig Kieswetter has passed 18 only twice in 11 innings and his strike-rate is an underwhelming 113.85; Jos Buttler was unable, through no fault of his own, to provide any further clues of his readiness to prosper at this level. Generally, however, this was an impressive performance with Steven Finn, with the ball, Jonny Bairstow, in the field, and Hales and Ravi Bopara, with the bat, providing the match-winning contributions.
Hales needed this innings. Under some pressure for his place from Alastair Cook - Broad admitted that a recall for Cook had been discussed - he has not made a century in Championship, T20 or one-day cricket for Nottinghamshire this season. Here, however, he showed a welcome ability to play on both sides of the wickets - his reputation as a predominantly off-side player looked silly as he pulled and hooked and worked to leg - and, as his innings progressed, some unusually deft touches which hinted at real class. Aged just 23, too, he has time on his side.
But if is Hales who will win the headlines, Bopara was just as impressive. He timed his innings perfectly, played selflessly and looked a player of some composure and maturity. For a man whose temperament has been question in the past, it was another demonstration that he may well be on the cusp of finally fulfilling his talent in all forms of international cricket.
It was, perhaps, fitting that the moment of defeat should be secured by a West Indies' misfield. For all the hints of improvement West Indies have shown during this tour, the fact is they have lost all five international games in which there was meaningful play. On each occasion, they have promised for a while only to let themselves down with a poor passage of play.
Darren Sammy, looking exhausted, admitted his side had been out played and offered warm praise to England.
"We have just been dominated by the number-one team in the world in all formats of the game," he said. "On paper we had a really strong team, but you need to go out and string together consistently good performances and that's what England have done throughout the series and we haven't.
"We have got to be consistently good in all three departments, batting, bowling and fielding. We are doing some good stuff but we are not doing it consistently for long enough. We have to string together performances that will get the team to win."
Nor will Sammy and his team enjoy any respite. They fly out of England on Monday and start another T20 series against New Zealand, in Florida, on Saturday. "We don't get a break until the August 7," Sammy said with the air of a man who had circled the date in his diary with some anticipation.
Sammy also defended the performance of Sunil Narine, who has been disappointingly innocuous in all formats in England. There was just a suggestion that the mystery of Narine, like Ajantha Mendis before him, had quickly been dispelled.
"To be fair to Sunil, the wickets he's played on haven't always suited his play," Sammy said. "The more he plays out there on the international scene, there is more footage, so batsman find ways to score off you. It happened to Mendis: when he first came out he was very difficult to pick but after a while people got used to him. But I know once Sunil gets the type of wickets that really suit him he will be very difficult to play. Swann has not been so effective in this series and he has been playing here throughout his career. It is Sunil's first away tour, so he will learn from this experience."
Perhaps the most important lesson on this tour from a West Indies perspective was that there will be no quick-fixes to their problems. It will take more than the return of a big-hitting opening batsman or the emergence of a mystery spinner to paper over the cracks of a Caribbean cricket system that is fatally flawed. Sammy has been asked to put out a forest fire with a mug of water. He has an almost impossible task.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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