Match Analysis

'Naive' England given a life lesson

West Indies proved totally and utterly at home in their home from home. England, through little fault of their own, tiptoed through their opening engagement like backpackers out of the airport

One day, without question, England's young bucks will thank Chris Gayle for the savage life lesson he meted out to them at the Wankhede on Wednesday night. One day, when the bruises have subsided and the memory has been distilled, they'll look back on their part in a night of beautiful destruction, and reflect that no one else in the world could have brought them so swiftly up to speed with the standards that are expected in the modern T20 jungle.
Watching Gayle shudder six after six into the floodlit Mumbai sky was like watching a battery farm of chickens being sent off to roost. Every blow was a reminder of the gulf in experience that existed between the World Boss and his challengers, and a further exposure of the fallacy at the heart of England's World T20 strategy.
"Embrace the naivety" was Eoin Morgan's rallying cry upon arrival in Mumbai, a cute repackaging of an all-too-obvious flaw. No-one questions the innate talent contained in their 15-man squad, or the wisdom of the captain's words, which gave them licence to play without consequences. But nothing, in the end, could compensate for the yawning gulf in street savvy when pitted against The Man.
"He did what he does," said Morgan after the match, and of that there can be no doubt. Five fours and 11 sixes -  a whopping 86 runs in boundaries - allowed a stiff run-chase to be deconstructed with an improbably professorial air. Gayle pottered at the non-striker's end while Marlon Samuels bossed the Powerplay, then snapped into action with a eureka moment onslaught, his angles and options seemingly calibrated by osmosis.
There is no point in pretending that a player who has now scored 17 T20 hundreds, ten more than his nearest challenger, is anything less than the format's greatest exponent of all time. And it would be patently unfair to judge England's vibrant new one-day outfit by the failures of the regime that preceded it.
Nevertheless, hindsight also cautions that any young team, or individual, that believes they have the beating of a gang of golden oldies is probably destined to fall short if experience is allowed to be the deciding factor. The concern on the eve of the tournament, that England's white-ball awakening had come too recently to bridge the gulf that has been allowed to grow in the intervening years, does not, on this evidence, appear unfounded.
West Indies may be a Test team in crisis whose days as a bilateral force have been and gone, but for the big world tours there's still, for this generation, a desire to get the band back together and jamming, as Dwayne Bravo's new victory song goes to show. And no stage is more welcoming of their front-man than the one on which this tournament is being played out.
In addition to 28 prior international appearances in India, dating back to 2002, Gayle has racked up the small matter of 75 IPL matches since the tournament returned from South Africa in 2010, including five in consecutive years at the Wankhede. England, as everyone knows, came into this contest with 10 squad members who had never once played a senior contest in the country, and - Morgan aside - none with that IPL inside track either.
In theory it should not have mattered too much - the green and seaming surface wasn't anything like as alien to England as the conditions that India managed to serve up for themselves in Nagpur on Tuesday night. But as anyone who has toured India for business or pleasure knows, the country involves a degree of cultural immersion that transcends the basics of bat and ball. West Indies proved totally and utterly at home in their home from home. England, through little fault of their own, tiptoed through their opening engagement like backpackers out of the airport.
By common consent, they did little wrong with the bat, accumulating with poise from the outset and with no little intent towards the end. As the pleasingly incremental strike-rates of each of their batsmen showed - 100.00 for Jason Roy, through 107.69, 133.33, 150.00, 192.85, 214.28 and finally 350.00 for Moeen Ali - they found a means to keep accelerating through their innings that, like learner drivers with a knack for parallel parking, augurs well for their long-term development.
And yet, there was a moment, just after the halfway mark of England's innings, when it was all too serene to be true. Joe Root, who once again turned in a shape-shifter's performance, flitting his way to 48 from 36 balls without really seeming to cut loose, suddenly lent into a flick for six off Jerome Taylor that was so effortless and so violent, you wondered and worried why it hadn't happened more often.
"We would have liked 200," admitted Morgan. "At no stage did we really get going. Guys got themselves in but never got away from West Indies, but I thought they showed a little bit of experience with the ball in getting in and out of overs, and being a little bit smarter against us. One-eighty was competitive but 200 was where we were aiming."
In the field, England's efforts were mitigated to a degree by a dew so heavy that the Super Soppers were deployed at the halfway mark of the run-chase to suck up the excess moisture on the outfield. But as Ireland would attest in the cold light of day, following their own slippery-ball woes up at Dharmasala last week, such excuses don't wash when your performance isn't up to the mark.
"Our bowling was maybe at 80-90%," said Morgan, and you could sense he was being generous. "I don't think it was outstanding. We bowled with a bit of aggression early on and when Gayle did face, the balls were quite attacking. But in particular he played Adil [Rashid] really well, so that posed a question that hasn't been asked in a while."
Indeed not. Rashid is still abundantly capable of being a matchwinner in this competition, and his initial burst was entirely in keeping with his recent form - a handbrake-like first over, complete with the key wicket of Samuels, brought England surging back into the reckoning, only for Gayle, with surgical precision and sledgehammer power, to marmalise his second and final over for the two biggest sixes of the night.
There is no danger of kneejerk recriminations after England's setback. The path that they have chosen in the past 12 months is firm and true, and promises sunlit savannahs at the end of it. "I still maintain our young guys are the way forward," said Morgan afterwards, but no-one (other than his inevitably trollish namesake, Piers) appeared to have been arguing otherwise.
Certainly, this was not a humiliation to rival England's last most sensational beating on the world stage. Brendon McCullum's shellacking in the Cake Tin at last year's World Cup retains a special pride of place in the annals of English global failure, on a par with Sanath Jayasuriya's onslaught at Faisalabad in 1996 for the manner in which it exposed a whole regime's philosophy for open ridicule.
Nothing of the sort happened at the Wankhede. If anything, the opposite rang true. England's belated acceptance of the value of overseas leagues has been one of the main reasons why their chances this month had ever been talked up in the first place. A life lesson from Gayle simply underscored the urgency of exposing more of England's best to the best the world can offer. And if his methods aren't enough of an education for one week, they've got AB de Villiers to come on Friday.
"It hasn't opened my eyes," said Morgan. "I've been preaching it [IPL exposure] for a very long time. We have a lot of talent, but tonight we were competing against a very experienced side who've played a lot of tournaments around the world. And Gayle has a huge ability to take any of our bowlers down in one over. Tonight was his night."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket