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When you've been in the slump England have endured any win is gratefully received. Some their batting raised more concerns, but the bowler, fielding and Ravi Bopara's calmness impressed
George Dobell in Antigua
March 2, 2014
Croft: A dismal West Indies batting performance
It wasn't pretty, it wasn't without fortune and it wasn't convincing but, like a starving man presented with week-old bread, England are in no position to quibble over the style of any victory.
Going into this game, England had lost 16 of their last 19 games in all formats against Test-playing opposition. They had lost seven of their last nine ODIs and five in a row across the limited-overs formats. They were desperate for a win to inject some confidence into a squad that has, so far, crept tentatively into a new era.
Defeat would have had damaging consequences. Not only would it have sealed the result of the series, but it would have increased the pressure on Ashley Giles, in particular, and risked the morale of the squad just ahead of the World T20.
As Stuart Broad, the captain, admitted afterwards: "We've probably fallen short in the real pressure scenarios in the past year. It would have been a huge setback to lose today, having done some great things. It would have been like slamming your head against a brick wall really.
"We just needed the top order to play us through and take responsibility. We didn't manage to do that, and we had a Champions Trophy final-type wobble in the middle. But we got over the line, and that's the most important thing.
"I would have been hugely disappointed sat here 2-0 down after some of the cricket we've played. On Friday, we played 75% of the cricket, and lost the game.
"To get over the line should give the changing-room a huge amount of confidence and belief - because we've not won two games in a row since July."
Even if the result had gone the other way - and but for an umpiring decision that went against Dwayne Bravo it might have done - there would have been some encouraging aspects to the performance. England's bowling, with their four spinners accounting for eight of West Indies' wickets, was much improved from the first game, while their fielding, already showing the influence of Paul Collingwood, was a key difference between the sides.
The close proximity of the fielders to the bat in the circle - England usually have them on the edge, thereby regularly surrendering quick singles - was classic Collingwood and noticeably increased the pressure on the West Indies batsmen.
Stephen Parry, a veteran of just six first-class games at the age of 28, went some way to justifying his surprise selection with three wickets on a debut that earned him the Man-of-the-Match award. He is not a spinner that is particularly pleasing on the eye and offers little of the traditional skills of flight or dip but, much in the manner that Michael Yardy fulfilled a valuable role for England in the World T20 of 2010, he has something to offer in the shorter formats.
He was admirably composed and, in taking the important wicket of Lendl Simmons the ball after having been hit for six, holding the following delivery back just a fraction and inviting a repeat of the stroke, he demonstrated pleasing confidence and nerve. He will not always find the conditions so helpful or the batsmen so obliging, but the unfazed character bodes well.
But perhaps it was the composure shown by Ravi Bopara that was most heartening. Bopara's talent has never been in question and, in his 101 ODIs, he has shown glimpses of quality that have made his inability to deliver more consistently all the more maddening. All too often, notably in the Champions Trophy final and in the ODI in Adelaide in January, he has appeared to freeze under pressure.
Here, however, he was calmness personified. While Broad was more than a little fortunate - he could have been caught three times before he made 6 and was reprieved on review before he had scored - Bopara knew there was no hurry and did not play a false stroke in the eighth-wicket partnership that took his side to victory. Again, there will be bigger moments in bigger games, but this was an unbeaten 38 worth far more than some of his half-centuries thrashed with the pressure off.
Broad's captaincy is intriguing, too. He appeared noticeably more aggressive than Alastair Cook might have been, utilising two legs slips at one stage and again opening the bowling with a spinner. Indeed, England utilised two part-time spinners in the Powerplay.
Still, victory should not mask the fragility of England's batting for the second game in succession. Bearing in mind the trial against spin anticipated in Bangladesh, their struggles against Sunil Narine, in particular, are a worry. Luke Wright has been horribly exposed in this series and the manner of Jos Buttler's dismissal, desperately uncomfortable trying to evade a bouncer, will have fast bowlers the world over taking notice. He will face many quicker bowlers on many quicker wickets.
It is a situation that does nothing to vindicate the management's decision to dispense with the services of Kevin Pietersen, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that is the only problem. Eoin Morgan has also been sorely missed, while Ian Bell and Cook will return to the first choice ODI side.
It is worth noting, too, that since the ODI series in January, England's No. 3 batsman - a combination of Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Wright - have scored just 91 runs between them in 13 innings; a run of scores that reads: 3, 2, 15, 70, 0, 1 and 0. Suffice it to say, Jonathan Trott has not been effectively replaced.
While the tired pitch - slow, low and, in many ways, utterly unsuited to promoting limited-overs cricket as a form of entertainment - resulted in some desultory cricket - there were only nine fours in the entire West Indies innings - it did provide a good example of what to expect in Bangladesh.
It will be encouraging for them, then, that both Morgan and Alex Hales were able to return to the nets during the game and might play in the deciding game on Wednesday.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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