Bell chimes as Sammy lets England off
There was, from an England perspective, something pleasing about Ian Bell clipping the winning runs of this Test. Bell has made Test half-centuries before, of course, and he has certainly taken boundaries off better bowlers than Marlon Samuels.
He was building, too, on foundations laid so masterfully by Alastair Cook. But, after a trying winter, Bell produced two important innings at Lord's. Only Shivnarine Chanderpaul scored more runs in the match and, having made just 134 runs in five Tests over the winter, Bell has already recorded 124 in this series.
More importantly, Bell performed under pressure. Since his contributions on the 2009-10 tour of South Africa, the complaint that he is not a man for a crisis has lost credence. But, bearing in mind that he came to the crease with England wobbling and 134 runs still required, then this was an important innings for the individual and the team.
West Indies may reflect, however, that they made life too easy for him. The game was in the balance when Bell came to join Cook. The tourists had fought their way back into the match through an admirably sustained spell of fast bowling from Kemar Roach and another wicket could have sent jitters through the home dressing room. West Indies had to go for the throat.
They failed to do so. With Roach needing a rest, Fidel Edwards (whose long-term back problems require careful management) and Shannon Gabriel (who was forced off the field by back spasms) held together by Blu-Tack and hope, Bell was confronted by Darren Sammy and Samuels for much of the time. He faced only three balls from Roach before he was rested and only one from Edwards in his entire innings. Not for a moment was Bell forced out of his comfort zone
While the injuries may have been bad luck, that is not the entire story. Not only did it highlight the danger - the predictable danger - of coming into the Test with at least one with bowler - Edwards - with some injury doubts, but it also highlighted the lack of effectiveness of West Indies' support bowlers.
Most of all, however, it highlighted some curious leadership from Sammy. The West Indies captain, leading a side without a specialist spinner for the first time, misjudged the over-rate so badly that, at a time when his only thought should have been victory, he was also thinking about making up lost time. While it is true that he did not hold a handful of aces, the decision to persist with Marlon Samuels - Test bowling average 75.60 - after lunch was inexplicable. England still required 60. The next man in was a debutant. There was still a chance to prey on the nerves of a side that were bowled out for 72 less than four months ago.
Instead, with a Test in the balance, Sammy prioritised the over-rate over a last push for victory. West Indies had battled so hard to claw their way back into the game, but threw it all away to avoid an over-rate fine. They failed, too, as ICC subsequently penalised them anyway. Sammy was fined 80% of his match fee; the rest of the team 40%.
Samuels' offspin was first introduced into the attack when England still required 86 to win. Sammy admitted after the game that part of the reason was because he was concerned about the slow over-rate. "At one point in time I was five or six overs down [on the rate] in the match," Sammy said. "Shannon Gabriel went out with back spasms and Fidel Edwards was not at his best, so yes Marlon Samuels had to fill in some overs and make up some time." It was a tactic that brought back memories of Ricky Ponting's costly decision to utilise Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke in the fourth Test against India in Nagpur in 2008.
What did we learn about West Indies from this match? We knew from Bridgetown and Delhi that they could push good sides all the way. We knew that Roach was a fine fast bowler and that Chanderpaul was a fine Test batsmen. We knew, too, that they could challenge for periods of time. But they still look a couple of players short of beating the better sides. Roach, in particular, lacks support. It feels, at times, as if they are progressing, but five losses in seven Tests hardly shows it. At some stage, the WICB will have to decide whether to stick or twist with Sammy but, for now, his abundant leadership qualities and the lack of obvious replacements provide some breathing space.
England always faced something of a no-win situation in this series. They were expected to win and, having done so by five-wickets, there will still be those suggesting that they should have done it bigger, better and with balloons. South Africa, it is true, will present a sterner test.
But England, who have named an unchanged squad for the second Test at Trent Bridge, can feel satisfied with their performance in this game. It is not just that they won, but that they found solutions to some of their dilemmas. Andrew Strauss scored the century he needed to prove to himself that he can still contribute at this level, Bell recovered his confidence, Stuart Broad underlined his growing status as bowler (he is up the No. 3 in the Test bowling rankings, one of three England players - Graeme Swann and James Anderson are the others - in the top five) and, most importantly, after four losses in five Tests, they returned to winning ways. They are still yet to categorically decide who should be the third seamer and who should bat at No. 6 but, with two months to go before the start of the first Test against South Africa at The Oval, England know with some certainly the identity and role of nine of their 11.
"Bell didn't have to justify his place in the side," Strauss said afterwards. "He's shown what a quality player it is. He averaged 100 in the year before the winter. He didn't have to prove to anyone in our side what a good player he is.
"I'm conscious of the need to use my century as a bit of a catalyst to have a really good summer," he continued. "Hopefully it will prove to be a bit of a breakthrough and allow me to go on and score a few more hundreds in the next few games."
Perhaps Alastair Cook can take most satisfaction from the final day. His first 28 balls - spread over the fourth evening and the fifth morning - brought only one run. But they also drew the sting from the West Indies attack. Cook left the ball well, did not become flustered and, having seen off Roach at his most hostile, milked the other bowlers in that quietly efficient way that has become so familiar. If greatness is about sweet timing and audacious strokes, Cook is an also-ran. But if it is simply about accumulating runs and delivering when your team is under pressure, Cook will surely be remembered as one of England's finest opening batsmen.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo