England v West Indies, Super Eights, Barbados

Some loud thunder

Sambit Bal in Barbados

April 22, 2007

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Paul Nixon was just one of the heroes on a glorious day's cricket © Getty Images
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It's a pity that the World Cup had to wait for 47 days for a match like this one but the stage demanded nothing less. A joyous, cacophonous, full house at the Kensington Oval watched a game without losers, even though for the record it must be registered that England nudged ahead at the finishing post.

Dwayne Bravo stood a broken man, hands on hips, staring into emptiness as Stuart Broad scooped one over the infield to seal the win, but he had nothing to be ashamed about. He had been a hero as much as anyone else, hitting the stumps when it mattered both from the outfield and the bowling crease.

In the end, there was not a lot that separated the two teams but it must be said that England managed their chase with verve and purpose. They found a man to put themselves back on track every time they looked like getting derailed, and it was moving that a man pushing 37 got them home. Well, nearly, anyway.

Paul Nixon, who was lucky to even be at the World Cup, and who must count every day in international cricket as a blessing, is a man to rehearse his strokes in his mind. He was at the batting crease even when the West Indian batsmen were rocking away. When a wicket fell, Nixon would be out there, taking shadow guard, playing a few shots, and switching his stance to practice the reverse sweep. When the situation arose, he was alert and ready and smoked three fours in that fateful over from Corey Collymore, when England were eight down needing 29 from 18 balls. 17 runs in that over turned the match.

It was the finish that made the difference, however marginal. Twice during their innings, when Chris Gayle and Devon Smith were blasting away and when Marlon Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were accelerating, West Indies had looked like getting to 320 or beyond. When the 40th over ended, their run-rate stood at 6.25, threatening to swell further with six wickets standing. But the last ten overs produced only 50 runs and the run-rate was dragged back to 6. England, who kept a steady pace through the innings, blasted 88 in their last ten.

For this they had Kevin Pietersen to thank. Till today, Pietersen had had a profitable World Cup but not a dominating one. His previous hundred, against Australia, had been a relatively sedate one and, like the three before, had ended in a losing cause. To have been denied again would have been cruel, for he dragged England forward with the boldest of strokes. He hit only one six, but the victory charge was engineered brilliantly.

He might have just beaten his captain to the man-of-the match award, but Michael Vaughan's contribution went much beyond his 79, a superbly paced innings laced with silken strokes. It was because of his slow, loopy off spin that West Indies didn't run away with the match. He first brought himself on when the openers were galloping away and his first three overs cost only seven runs. He brought himself back again in the 37th over when Samuels was toying with the pace bowlers, and bowled through till the 49th, claiming three wickets. Samuels was one of them.

It was the first time in his career that he'd bowled his full quota and it must open a new possibility for a player whose worth in the one-day team has been seriously questioned. When asked if this was a fitting reply to his critics, Vaughan readily acknowledged that the criticism had been well-deserved, but added: "I am a fighter, and today there was a fighting performance from Michael Vaughan." Vaughan as all-rounder? Don't rule it out yet.



Gayle was muscular and nonchalant, smoking fours and sixes with typical casualness that often masks his skills © Getty Images
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It's not been a batsman's World Cup so far and thank heavens for that. But today, on the best batting pitch of the tournament, the spectators were treated to the entire gamut.

Gayle was muscular and nonchalant, smoking fours and sixes with the typical casualness that often masks his skills; Samuels opened his shoulders early, waited for the ball to arrive and manoeuvred it powerfully to the empty spaces either side of the stumps; Vaughan was gorgeous and the ball sped from his bat with the sweet noise that is given to batsmen blessed with the gift of timing; and Pietersen batted like only he can, distracting the bowlers and rendering line and length irrelevant by moving around in the crease, then hitting powerfully.

And there were contributions from Smith, whose cutting and driving was typically West Indian; Chanderpaul, who was all wrist and timing; Ravi Bopara, who showed in a brief, but vital innings, that he had all the strokes including the old-fashioned hook played in front of the nose; and of course, Nixon, who didn't reverse sweep a six but was always cheeky.

Of course, the result meant little in the end. Both teams had had a similar World Cup. West Indies started with a win and had nothing after it, England ended with a win but had nothing before it. But in a sense their equality was a boon. Out of it came a cracker.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo Magazine

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.
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