Different format, different opponents, same old story for England, who started their Twenty20 series against West Indies in Barbados with very different personnel but in precisely the same style with which they ended the Ashes in Tasmania, soundtracked by an embarrassing clatter of wickets. The tourists lost first the toss and then their composure as they slumped to 49 for seven before mounting something of a recovery but West Indies, powered by a suitably regal half-century from Brandon King, made their total of 103 appear suitably trifling and won by nine wickets with 17 balls remaining.
For the hosts, who had lost eight of their last nine Twenty20 internationals, an emphatic victory over the world’s top-ranked side was an occasion to savour. “Tough times don’t last, tough people do,” said their captain, Kieron Pollard.
None of England’s batters did. A quarter of the way through England’s innings 30 balls had been bowled, just five scoring shots played, and four wickets lost. By the end of the powerplay they were 26 for four and Eoin Morgan had faced 11 deliveries for the score of one. When Sam Billings was stumped at the end of the seventh over England had lost 15 wickets for 95 runs in two formats and two continents – with Billings personally contributing two wickets and three runs to the long-distance collapse. Morgan complained afterwards that his side had faced “the opposite conditions to what we played” in their single warm-up fixture on the same ground and that they would “have to come back tomorrow with a fresh gameplan”.
“I think we knew it wasn’t going to be a belter,” said Liam Dawson of the wicket on which he played his first T20i for nearly four years and his first international of any kind for three and a half. “Looking back if we’d got 130 or 140 it would have been potentially a very different game. Tomorrow we’ll have to learn, hopefully take our time a little bit more and put a score on the board.”
West Indies, bowled out for 55 when the teams met in Dubai at the Twenty20 World Cup last October and in the doldrums ever since, were never likely to feel any sympathy for England’s plight, their only disappointment being that a flurry of boundaries from Chris Jordan and Adil Rashid took the tourists from the brink of humiliation to the sunlit uplands of triple figures.
The first over of the game ended with Sheldon Cottrell executing his familiar march-and-salute celebration after Jason Roy completely missed a full toss, lost his middle stump and set the tone. Tom Banton edged Jason Holder to slip, where Nicholas Pooran took a fine low catch, in the following over and after Moeen Ali hit his first ball straight to backward point England were 10 for three after 12 balls.
Morgan and James Vince seemed to have brought some semblance of normality to proceedings as the latter hit two fours and a top-edged six off Cottrell. But just as England’s fans, who made up the overwhelming majority of the crowd in Bridgetown, might have felt the sense of crisis dissipating, Vince cracked the last ball of the same Cottrell over straight to the fielder at cover and the collapse continued.
There were many reasons for England’s failure: some early swing, some uneven bounce, some disciplined bowling and fine, error-free fielding. Holder returned career-best figures of four for seven and was superb. But totals this low normally involve a little self-destruction and Dawson provided the clearest case, pushing an Akeal Hosein delivery to Pollard, standing close at cover, and setting off for a single before slipping when inevitably told to turn around. Pollard returned the ball underarm for Shai Hope to complete the run-out.
England needed early wickets to have any hope of conjuring an unlikely victory, and got none. In no great hurry, Brandon King and Shai Hope guided West Indies to 50 without loss in the ninth over, precisely four overs quicker than England, who had of course been seven down at the time. They had a little luck along the way – Hope deflected a Saqib Mahmood delivery into the ground and just past his stumps and Dawson threatened both batters and thought that “on another night I could have got a few wickets” – but with little scoreboard pressure they were able to relax and showed real quality.
King in particular hit some splendid shots – a huge slog sweep off Rashid and a crisp cut off Tymal Mills stood out – as he powered his side to victory. With just 24 hours separating the first two games of the series England have little time to brood on this performance, and would anyway have been planning some squad rotation. Sadly memories of their batting out of hell won’t be gone when the morning comes.