Morgan ton, seamers seal England win
England 296 for 6 (Morgan 107, Stokes 55, Billings 52) beat West Indies 251 (Mohammed 72, Carter 52, Plunkett 4-40, Woakes 4-47) by 45 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
A mature century from Eoin Morgan helped England to victory in the first ODI of the series against West Indies in Antigua. The win was secured with almost three overs to spare, with Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett taking four wickets apiece.
Morgan, the England captain, had spoken the day before the game about the need for his side to temper their aggressive instincts a little on a surface that he anticipated would do little to encourage stroke-play. It proved an accurate analysis. On a sluggish, slightly two-paced pitch England were precariously placed at 29 for 2 when Morgan walked to the wicket after West Indies had won what appeared to be an important toss in a match delayed by rain.
It took Morgan seven balls to get off the mark and 33 to reach double-figures. But he did not panic. Recognising that this was a surface on which a total of 270 might prove match-winning, he batted accordingly and reached his tenth ODI century - and second in three matches - with his second six in the 49th over of the England innings. It was a masterful demonstration of experience and calculated aggression in conditions demanding more subtlety than aggression.
It was the first time England had failed to post a total of at least 300 when batting first in an ODI since February 2016. But, in these conditions, it was a challenging total and testament, perhaps, to some growing sophistication within an England side that has tended, until now, to try to blast its way to success. Had they attempted to make 350, they could very well have subsided for fewer than 200.
"It wasn't easy or pretty," Morgan said afterwards. "It was hard work, especially getting in.
"It was very tacky early on. When they peeled the covers off, it was damp. They rolled it and it looked dry but it just rolled the moisture into the wicket. Over the first 15 or 20 overs the moisture came out of it and that balls that dismissed Joe Root and Jason Roy both kept low."
It was Morgan's fifth century as captain, a new record for an England skipper surpassing the four made by Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook.
West Indies will rue two missed chances, though. First Kieran Powell, at slip, was unable to cling on to an outside edge offered by a loose drive off Carlos Brathwaite's first ball when Morgan had just 4, while later Shai Hope was unable to complete a tough catch after a delivery from Jason Mohammed turned, bounced and took Morgan's outside edge when he had 69.
Perhaps more significantly in the grand scheme of things, Morgan also had an escape when he was struck by a bouncer bowled by the impressively sharp Shannon Gabriel. Through a pull shot too early, Morgan was struck on the stemguard but, thanks to the extra protection, he was able to go on and celebrate a fine century in front of a crowd dominated by travelling England supporters. Ticket prices of USD75 appear to have done little to attract local spectators.
Morgan accelerated intelligently after his careful start. He struck the spinners for four fours in eight balls at one stage, going deep in his crease to pull and lofting the ball over mid-off when the man was pulled into the circle, while also clearing his front leg and striking the seamers for his two sixes.
He was given excellent support from Ben Stokes. Stokes, too, ensured he played himself in before going on the attack and it took him 26 deliveries to reach double-figures but once he settled he went on the attack and helped his captain add 110 in 18.4 overs.
Struggling to hit fours on the slow surface and with bug square boundaries, Stokes instead relied on his power. He struck three sixes in 12 balls at one stage - helped by Kraigg Brathwaite stepping over the boundary as he attempted to take a catch at deep midwicket - and registered his sixth score of 50-plus in his last nine ODI innings, from 56 balls.
While he was eventually caught at long-on and Morgan was run-out backing-up - Moeen Ali hit the ball straight back at the bowler, Brathwaite, who threw down the stumps - Moeen contributed 31 from 22 balls to help England plunder exactly 100 runs off the final 10 overs of their innings.
West Indies rarely threatened to get close to their target. After Evin Lewis pulled to deep midwicket, Kieran Powell sent a leading edge to point as he tried to turn one into the leg side, and Kraigg Brathwaite pulled to mid-on. Mohammed and Jonathan Carter added 82 in 13.5 overs to revive West Indies hopes, but when Carter was brilliantly caught by Jason Roy, charging in from deep midwicket, and Mohammed was run-out by some nifty footwork from the bowler, Steven Finn, having been called through for a sharp single, their chase fell away.
"We were in the game right through," Mohammed said afterwards. "But when a team scores a hundred in the last 10 overs, they've got a really good chance. That was a crucial part in the game.
"A couple of chances went down, too. If we'd held on to them, there could have been a different result."
England's victory was achieved without the need to use Stokes' bowling skills. The much-anticipated rematch between him and Carlos Brathwaite, therefore, will have to wait. Woakes, who finished with four wickets as reward for an intelligent display of control and variation, dismissed him with a slower ball. Plunkett also finished with four wickets, while Finn, in his first ODI since September 2015, was wicketless but bowled with good control. It was, in short, a good display by England's seamers.
"I thought they were brilliant in conditions that don't really suit us," Morgan said. "We were relentless in making them hit cross-bat shots into the wind. It was an outstanding performance from the seamers.
"It wasn't pre-planned not to us Ben. I just didn't need to go to him."
Sam Billings will feel he only partially took his chance to impress having retained his place at the top of the order. He registered his second half-century in three ODI innings to steady England, after Gabriel defeated Roy with one that may have kept a little low and bowled Joe Root with a beauty that cut in off the seam. Billings may feel he squandered a chance to register a really telling total, though, when skipping down the pitch and drilling a catch to mid-on.
"He's got to keep churning out runs," Morgan said when asked if Billings had done enough to see off the return of Alex Hales over the next couple of games. "Alex is a very formidable player in our side and has scored a lot of runs when we've won games. It'll all depend on how Hales has pulled up from training."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. He will be covering England's tour of the Caribbean in association with Smile Group Travel, specialists in hosted supporters' packages.