England fall victim to rain rules
West Indies booked their place in the Super Eights with a controversial rain-assisted victory over England at Providence, as Chris Gayle justified his decision to bowl first with a fiery but shortlived 25 from 12 balls - an innings that proved sufficient, under the provisions of Duckworth-Lewis, to carry West Indies to a revised target of 60 in six overs, after England had produced arguably their finest batting display in the format's history to post an imposing 191 for 5.
England's defeat should not prove costly in the long run, so long as they overcome Ireland in their second group match on Tuesday, but it was nevertheless an unfortunate way for a beautifully poised contest to unravel - and for England it was a case of history repeating itself, after West Indies eliminated them from the last World Twenty20 in a similar scenario at The Oval in June.
The result was more or less a foregone conclusion from the moment that the D/L calculators were brought into play. While the method is unrivalled as a means of resolving rain interruptions in 50-over cricket, it is not so well suited to the hustle and bustle of the 20-over format. It just so happened that the match did come down to the wire - Andre Fletcher eventually sealed it with a pulled four through midwicket with one ball to spare - but it had been a nervy denouement. In a full-length contest, West Indies' challenge might well have petered out as soon as Gayle pulled Graeme Swann to short midwicket in the fourth over.
Instead, Gayle's brief intercession proved sufficient to puncture England's spirits after a hugely impressive performance with the bat. Eoin Morgan top-scored with 55 from 35 balls, and was joined in an 95-run stand for the fifth wicket by Luke Wright, who made 45 from 27, to close the innings with the same positive intent shown by their rookie opening pairing of Michael Lumb and Craig Kieswetter, who showcased their boundary-clearing abilities with scores of 28 from 18 balls and 26 from 14 respectively.
Nevertheless, with rain in the air, Gayle knew exactly how to pace his reply, and turned on the afterburner. Ryan Sidebottom was dispatched for 15 in an opening over in which he beat the bat three times and found the edge once, only to ruin his good work with a leg-side wide and two half-volleys that were belted over the covers for four and six. And at the other end, Shivnarine Chanderpaul turned his stance inside-out to sweep Graeme Swann over point for another six, as England conceded 30 runs in 2.2 overs, and with it, the contest.
Collingwood was understandably frustrated after the match, but England had plenty reason to be proud of their performance. Their total of 11 sixes was a national record for the format, and though neither of the new boys, Kieswetter or Lumb, was able to build on their starts, their alliance was an undoubted success, as demonstrated by England's Powerplay total of 60 for 1, the highest six-over score of the tournament (until West Indies trumped it in their brief reply).
Once they were gone, however, the older guard of Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen struggled to maintain the dominance, as Miller and Darren Sammy found a tidy rhythm to stymie the flow of runs, but when Morgan and Wright came together at 88 for 4 after 10 overs, they did so with the ideal blend of watchfulness and aggression. It wasn't until both men had their eyes in with five overs remaining that they really cut loose.
Kieron Pollard's first over was clobbered for 16 by Wright, including two sixes - one flat over Sulieman Benn's head at long-on, the other high over the midwicket scoreboard. Morgan then drilled Dwayne Bravo for four straight back down the ground, before sweeping him wristily over backward square leg for six, as the fifty partnership was brought up in 6.5 overs.
Ravi Rampaul, who had conceded 25 in his first two overs, was then clobbered for 27 in his third and final over, including three sixes in three legitimate balls - two for Wright and one, from a free hit, for Morgan, who followed up with a cheeky backhanded dink for four that left Collingwood chuckling at his audacity. He brought up his half-century from 32 balls before picking out Pollard in the deep with four balls of the innings remaining. It ought to have been enough for the contest at hand, but instead England will hope it is a marker for the tournament.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo