Jonny Bairstow in his latest role as a one-day international opening batsman – and wizard boundary fielder – shepherded his side to the simplest of victories in the first match of the series. England cruised home by seven wickets on the nearest we are likely to come to a balmy Manchester evening at this time of year. Bairstow hit a fluent, unbeaten 100, his first ODI century, which means that it will take a while for the displaced Jason Roy to regain a place in England’s best team.
“It’s a long time since I made my debut at Cardiff [six years ago] so I’m really delighted,” said Bairstow, who must regard this as a landmark innings that is likely to forge a new career for him as an ODI player.
The win was so emphatic that this match is unlikely to linger long in the memory, beyond that of the Bairstow family. The home fans could take some satisfaction in an efficient England performance but there was little excitement and much early frustration. Those who arrived promptly had to wait two hours before the conditions were deemed to be playable and there was not much reward, for their patience since the game lacked much drama. The outcome was seldom in any doubt.
The quirky 12.30pm start never came to pass. At 11.30am, as the sun came out, England were happily playing football on the outfield; West Indies were knocking up with bats and balls. At 1.45pm the sun was still beaming down and the playing area was deserted except for Rob Bailey, the fourth umpire, and a forlorn groundsman.
There had been no play because of a damp outfield and a second inspection was imminent; there was a reluctance to start because of the risk of player injury. Ho-hum – on that basis rugby players would never take to the field. The two-hour delay contrived to make our summer sport look ever more ridiculous. If it is deemed to be a good idea to schedule international matches for the second half of September, do not expect perfect playing conditions.
After the second inspection, sanity prevailed; the umpires gave up consulting with wary captains and decreed that play would commence at 2.30pm and the contest became a 42-over match. Thereafter, there was never any indication that the players were being exposed to unacceptable risks – provided they had remembered to apply sunscreen diligently.
West Indies, who won the toss and batted, only threatened when Chris Gayle, playing his first ODI since the World Cup of 2015, was at the crease. He should have been dismissed for a duck when driving in Chris Woakes’s first over, but Joe Root at second slip – probably standing too close given the batsman – dropped a chance that sped towards him at chest height.
Then Gayle batted as Gayle does; there was minimal foot movement whether he was playing a shot or running – sidling would be nearer the truth – between the wickets. Gayle has long been a phenomenon, mechanical yet spellbinding at the crease. If the ball is in his slot he hits it for six – there were three of those, two off David Willey, who was swiftly removed from the attack, and one off Woakes. All of them were walloped back over the bowler’s head. There was also the odd dismissive pull shot interspersed with the occasional quick single, which for Gayle, 38 on Thursday, constitutes a gentle jog while the ball travels to long-on.
It looked as if Root’s miss would cost England dear. But soon the fielding and the match situation improved significantly. First, Alex Hales snaffled a fine catch at square leg after the early introduction of Moeen Ali to remove Erin Lewis. Then Root atoned brilliantly, sprinting back from extra cover to take a superb catch over his shoulder from a lofted drive by Gayle off Woakes.
Off limped Gayle – there was a suspicion that he had damaged a hamstring while walking one of his singles – and then only Shai Hope with a polished 35 and Jason Holder, who hit a skittish, unbeaten 41 at the end caused England any concerns.
Marlon Samuels spent a lot of time in reconnaissance but to no avail. His 17 occupied 46 balls and his dismissal was noteworthy since the bowler was Ben Stokes. Upon review Samuels was given out caught down the leg side and, rather disappointingly for those who like a bit of pantomime (and we are nearly at that time of the year), there was no salute from Stokes nor even an indication to the departing batsman.
Batting was a much more straightforward occupation for England. After a brisk start Hales cracked a catch to backward point but Bairstow and Root expertly guided England towards their modest target. Their strokeplay was sure, their running between the wickets rapid and well-judged – in stark contrast to the start of the West Indies innings. The Yorkshiremen had added 125 when Root played on for 54. Eoin Morgan departed for 10 but Stokes, despite hitting two sixes, allowed Bairstow just enough time to register his hundred.
It could be a long 10 days for the tourists and this defeat confirms that next year they will have to embark upon a tricky qualifying process to appear in the 2019 World Cup.
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