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Victory in a short and, at times, low quality one-day series should not be over-hyped but all recoveries have to start somewhere and England's may just have begun in Antigua
George Dobell in Antigua
March 6, 2014
Croft: Fielding first was a mistake by West Indies
The road from Durham to North Sound has been long and has claimed several casualties. But, after a miserable and momentous winter, Antigua may just have witnessed the first signs of recovery from England.
In the seven months since they clinched the Ashes in Durham, England have lost the coach, the spinner and the middle-order batsman who did so much to achieve their period of relative success. They have had to abandon their long-held plans and begin again with fresh faces and lower expectations. They are at the start of a journey that may be hard and will not always be pretty.
But they have, at last, won their first series since that day in Durham. Not only that, but they have come from behind and won two games in a row for the first time since September. The harsh might point out that they have hardly won one in a row since September.
But it was not just the result that was significant here. It was the architects of the result.
For this was a victory forged by those young men who have been identified as the future of this side: Jos Buttler, Joe Root and Moeen Ali, among them. All three registered their highest ODI scores, all three demonstrated the class that will surely win bigger games on bigger stages and all three have their best years ahead of them. On such men, will England's new team will build its foundations.
Root, with a century of class and composure, displayed not just his quality but a toughness and bravery that the boyish exterior could easily conceal.
He sustained a nasty blow to his right thumb off the bowling of Ravi Rampaul when he had scored just 1 and, when rain took the players off the pitch a few minutes later, was advised to retire hurt and allow Eoin Morgan to bat in his place. But he insisted on continuing and, with the pain forcing him to limit his game, deflected and nudged his way to a maiden ODI century.
In the short-term, he may well be proved unavailable for the World Twenty20 after an X-ray in Antigua on Thursday morning, but in the long-term he surely has a bright future at international level.
"One thing that Joe wouldn't mention is that his was an incredibly brave knock today," Stuart Broad said afterwards. "His thumb was very ugly and Eoin was going to go out after the rain break, but then two minutes before the resumption, Joe wacked his helmet on and stormed out. It was clear for everyone to see the discomfort he was in.
"That is the sort of commitment and desire you want people to have in playing for England. We've tried to make a big point of that within this squad about how much it means to play for England and how it must not be taken for granted.
"Here we got a real-life example of someone putting themselves through the pain barrier and showing that level of desire. And you saw the passion he showed when he reached a 100. That's the sort of thing that will help England going forward."
Buttler was equally impressive. While known for his outrageous invention and strength, here he also showed admirable restraint and composure. After 11 balls he had scored only 1 and looked less than confident against the wiles of Sunil Narine.
But he retained his calm, built his innings and, towards the end, unleashed the shots of power and ingenuity that will surely become familiar over the next few years. Just as impressively, he did so against the bowling of Narine and Dwayne Bravo that had previously caused him such difficulty. Such skill, such character and such ability to learn quickly bodes well.
Ben Stokes contributed, too. While he again failed with the bat - England's No. 3 position has now contributed 91 runs in eight ODI innings since Jonathan Trott's departure - he took one fine catch and showed wonderful commitment in diving forwards to attempt another.
Some perspective needs to be maintained. England have still only won only four of their last 11 ODIs. They have still lost 16 of their last 21 games in all formats against Test-playing opposition. This was still their first ODI series win since they left New Zealand a year ago.
Nor was this a particularly high-quality series. It contained some poor death bowling and a batting collapse from England in the first ODI and some poor batting from West Indies in all three games. Both teams will face sterner opposition in higher-pressure situations.
There are clear areas of improvement required, too. England's reluctance - or inability - to bowl yorkers is a significant weakness (Hawkeye suggests they delivered three in the West Indies innings here) and will continue to hurt them. The preferred policy, at present, is to deliver bouncers of various speeds and hope for the batsmen to make an error. It is like shopping in Harrod's. It was telling that when Bresnan did, at last, deliver a yorker, it ended Denesh Ramdin's outstanding innings. "We could have bowled a few more," Broad admitted afterwards.
But the mood of the England squad has been notably lighter on this trip. With young faces replacing the tired and in some cases cynical ones of recent times, there is a heightened sense of enjoyment and purpose that has been reflected in the much-improved fielding performances. That old adage about the fielding reflecting the mood of the side so often rings true.
Root and Buttler and Moeen and Stokes are all raw at this level. There will be days, as they learn their trade, that they make mistakes and England fail. The World T20 surely comes too soon in the rebuilding process.
But, after a grim winter that has ended the careers of huge figures in England cricket, such players represent hope and progress. And at the end of a winter that has at times been hopeless, such qualities are worth a great deal. Spring is on its way.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala