Joe Root scored an unbeaten 90, his first innings of note since being appointed as England’s Test captain last month, to help England defeat the West Indies by four wickets despite a careless middle order collapse. They now have an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three match series.
Although not captain in the shorter formats, Root’s calmness under pressure, taking responsibility to lead England to victory bodes well for his Test captaincy which will begin in July against South Africa. His innings was a lesson in calm accumulation – he only hit three boundaries – and he looked in total control throughout except for one chance, off a spinning Devendra Bishoo leg-break, which went through Ashley Nurse at slip.
Chasing a below-par 226 to win, it required an unbeaten partnership of 102 between Root, the only England player to look comfortable against spin, and Chris Woakes, who finished 68 not out, for England to avoid an embarrassing defeat following a collapse of five wickets for 37 runs at the hands of the West Indian spinners Ashley Nurse and Devendra Bishoo.
Root could not have done it without Woakes. The Warwickshire man’s half-century, his second in ODIs, confirmed once again that he is England’s most improved player of the past twelve months, good enough to now be considered a genuine international all-rounder. His fluency – his fifty came off just 65 balls – took pressure off Root and allowed England’s number three to carry on playing at his own tempo without the required rate rising.
Before Root and Woakes’ match winning partnership, England lost Sam Billings early to a gem of a ball, the second of their innings, from Shanon Gabriel but Jason Roy, who made 52 from 46 balls, and Root put on 87 for the second wicket. Following Roy’s dismissal, caught on the boundary hitting into a strong wind with little need to do so, England’s middle order collapsed as familiar failings on turning pitches resurfaced.
On a slow surface which turned more and more as the game wore on, off-spinner Nurse and leg-spinner Bishoo, at times extracting sharp spin and offering different challenges, combined to take five wickets for 77 runs from their 20 overs. It was another England collapse against spin to go with those seen on the tours of Bangladesh and India earlier in the winter. Had the West Indies caught better, dropping three catches in all, it could have been terminal.
Despite the excellence of the two spinners, there were several poor dismissals from England. Both Jos Buttler, dismissed for a duck – he now has just 81 runs from his last eight international limited overs games – and Ben Stokes were out caught behind playing injudicious cut shots early in their innings and Moeen Ali was bowled by Nurse after playing back to a ball he should have been forward to.
Earlier, a combination of excellent bowling from England and some ordinary batting from the home side limited the West Indies, who won the toss and chose to bat, to 225 all out, a score which, at the time, looked perhaps forty short of a challenging total. There were three wickets from Liam Plunkett, to go with his four from the first game, and two apiece for Steven Finn and Adil Rashid.
With the dismissals of Evin Lewis and Kieran Powell, Finn passed 100 ODI wickets, a feat achieved in his 67th match, the third fastest England bowler to that landmark after Darren Gough and Stuart Broad. Despite those wickets, it was an inconsistent display from Finn who conceded five boundaries in his first five overs in stark contrast to Woakes whose eight overs cost just 26 runs.
A partnership of 72 for the West Indies’ fourth wicket between Kraigg Braithwaite and Jason Mohammed threatened to put them in a position for a late charge with wickets in hand, the recipe for success on a slow pitch, but Braithwaite’s dismissal, stumped off the bowling of the excellent Ali playing a wild hack, ended their partnership and was the first of a number of easy wickets gifted to England.
The dismissals of Mohammed, tamely hitting Plunkett to mid-on, Jonathan Carter, falling in similar fashion to the same bowler, and Jason Holder, caught and bowled by Rashid following a wild slog against the spin, will no doubt have infuriated new coach Stuart Law. It suggested a side lacking in the savvy and game awareness that only greater experience can bring. There were glimpses, particularly in the batting of Carter and Mohammed, of promise but the innings petered out disappointingly, the final four wickets falling in less than four overs, including that of Carlos Braithwaite, caught on the boundary by a brilliant relay catch between Jason Roy and Sam Billings. Criminally, the West Indies failed to bat all their overs.
Rashid bowled far better than in the first game despite figures of 2 for 53 off nine overs which suggest otherwise. He was used later in the innings than on Friday by Morgan and, with a hint of spin in the surface and using his googly to good effect, the leg-spinner proved hard to get away when the West Indies wanted to accelerate. Considering England’s batting, if they had been able to, a famous victory may have been theirs.
Brief scores: West Indies 225 all out in 47.5 overs (Jason Mohammed 50, Kraigg Brathwaite 42, Liam Plunkett 3-32, Steven Finn 2-38) lost to England 226/6 in 48.2 overs (Joe Root 90*, Chris Woakes 68*, Jason Roy 52; Ashley Nurse 3-34, Devendra Bishoo 2-43) by 4 wickets.