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June 3, 2009
Compared with their soporific efforts against Scotland on Tuesday, this was an England invigorated under the floodlights at Lord's. In the field they were sharp, none more so than the galloping Ryan Sidebottom, who claimed a brilliant running catch at third man to remove Shivnarine Chanderpaul for 0, while the batting of Luke Wright and Ravi Bopara made a teasing target of 145 look puny.
By the time the Lord's lights had kicked in, England were kicking on, with Wright at last justifying the faith invested in his power-hitting, and Bopara showing once again what a little chutzpah can do at the top of an innings. And yet, just how ready can England really feel for their World Twenty20 campaign, after a puzzling piece of scheduling that landed them their 17th encounter with West Indies in the space of four months?
Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say, which perhaps explains the refusal of Chris Gayle to waste his time getting involved in this latest encounter. With 88 from 56 balls in his last outing against Ireland, Gayle clearly felt his bat had talked sufficiently to compensate for the looseness of his tongue in the build-up to the Test series.
West Indies' stand-in captain, Denesh Ramdin confirmed that Gayle had not intended to play any part with the bat despite being named in the 13-man squad for this unofficial contest. "He's resting today," said Ramdin. "It was a bit of fun leading the team, with the ball going to all parts of the ground, but hopefully we can get it right with him coming back for the first game. We are a team that can show up on its day, so hopefully we can get it right.
"We're still enjoying playing England," added Ramdin. "We thought 145 was a competitive total, but the openers came out and went hard at us, and they got the stand that they wanted. The run-rate was really high, and we tried to pull it back but they continued to go hard because they didn't lose any wickets in the first six [overs]."
They ought to have lost a wicket to the first ball after the Powerplays, however, when Bopara spanked Dwayne Bravo to Sulieman Benn at short midwicket. The chance, like so many in the past few months, went begging, and England powered onwards with Bopara, once again, to the fore.
"Ravi's great to bat with," said Wright. "He's really come of age of late, the way he's playing. He's taken his form from the Test matches to the one-dayers and now to the Twenty20s. He really takes the pressure off when he plays the way he does."
At first that was just as well for Wright, seeing as he took nine deliveries to get off the mark, three of which - from Fidel Edwards - whistled past his flailing bat without any contact being made. "I found it quite hard to start with, I wasn't seeing it so well, but it was my choice to try and be positive," said Wright. "I think you've sometimes got to pick your bowlers a bit, and target your overs. Fidel was bowling really well, and before Ravi got out we spoke about him being the dangerman. We wanted to see him off and put pressure on the other bowlers, and luckily that came off."
Three spanking sixes from consecutive Kieron Pollard deliveries kicked Wright into top gear, and gave an animated 9000-strong crowd something to cheer about. It was also a timely justification of his selection alongside Bopara, which - assuming there are no surprises for the tournament opener against Netherlands on Friday - will amount to England's 12th opening combination in 16 Twenty20 internationals.
"The guys back me, and want me to express myself and believe in myself, and that's what I tried to do," said Wright. "I went away on the Lions tour to New Zealand and got a few hundreds, and I've always done well in Twenty20s domestically. I've worked hard and it's got me back into the squad straight away, which I'm delighted with. I've now got to try and get consistent and push on from this."
England themselves have got some consistency now - six consecutive victories across three forms of the game, friendly or otherwise, since the start of the international summer. A seventh surely awaits on Friday, regardless of the potency of Dirk Nannes and Ryan ten Doeschate. But after that, are they really prepared to take sides with greater know-how and that extra notch of incentive that proper competitive cricket brings?
In sitting out this fixture, Gayle ensured that West Indies have not shown their true colours to England since they departed the Caribbean in April. As an incentivised Scotland suggested at Trent Bridge, it could be a shock to the system when they eventually take the field with a team with a will to win.
As West Indies play their 500th Test, here's an interactive journey through their Test history