Another huge score, allied to the skills of Adil Rashid and Mark Wood, will give England renewed confidence for the World Cup
England’s one-day renaissance began in 2015 with a Jos Buttler-inspired monster of 408 for nine against New Zealand at Edgbaston and, having never climbed so high previously, their batsmen have since gone on to pass the hallowed 400-barrier on three more occasions.
But only in their most recent such feat – the near-gazumping in Grenada on Wednesday – did they walk off the field at the end looking closer to survivors in a disaster film than victors. Until Adil Rashid finally doused the West Indian fire in the 48th over of the chase, claiming four wickets in five balls, English hearts had been in their mouths.
They will have learned plenty from the tense 29-run win that followed their 418 for six batting first, both on the field and at the team hotel that evening. Eoin Morgan is said to have drilled home to the players just how good they have now become, how they can outgun any rival batting lineup and how much belief they should take from the win.
Certainly with the bat they continue to set the standard. Buttler’s 76-ball 150 – the second fastest in ODI cricket after AB de Villiers – and a century for Morgan himself made it the ninth time in four years that two England batsmen have got to three-figures in the same innings; this is one more than during the 638 one-day games they played up to the 2015 World Cup.
When Buttler made England’s fastest ODI century in 2014 – 46 balls against Pakistan in 2015 – it pushed Kevin Pietersen’s 69-ball effort against South Africa in 2005 into second place. This has now dropped down to ninth in the country’s all-time list, further highlighting the incredible strides taken.
The evening debrief in the team room, one of relief, astonishment, shock and delight when recounting a day of 807 runs, 16 wickets and 46 sixes, may also have doubled as group therapy for members of the bowling attack.
Past winning margins of 210 runs, 169 and 242 when sticking 400-plus on the board against New Zealand, Pakistan and Australia respectively (the last two via world record totals) were stress-free processions, where the volume of runs and early wickets soon turned the chase into an exercise in futility.
Not this time. England struck early but still went through an emotional mangle, the usually ice-cool Morgan admitting he had never previously been so pushed to the limit. West Indies, inspired by Chris Gayle’s latest exhibition of power-hitting (162 from 97 balls) and the determination of Carlos Brathwaite (50 from 36) to remain a name to remember, were ahead for much of the chase.
It should come as no surprise that pace and leg-spin – two game-changing elements missing from England’s doomed World Cup campaign four years ago – helped them prevail. Mark Wood’s two-wicket over came when the hosts had scorched to 220 for 2 after 23 overs and required 199 more from 27; Rashid shut down a situation that began with West Indies, four wickets in hand and two set men, needing 32 off the last three.
Rashid, it is possible to argue, has now risen to become one of England’s most irreplaceable players leading into this year’s World Cup. A fine 82 from Alex Hales, deputising for the hamstrung Jason Roy, shows they can cope with injury to a batsman, but to lose a wicket-taker such as Rashid, whose value in the later overs is growing, would change everything.
Ben Stokes is probably the other in this bracket for the balance he brings, and had Wednesday’s carnage unfolded two days earlier, when rain held sway but he was out with an ankle niggle, goodness knows how Morgan would have coped with just five bowlers. Stokes may have been taken to the cleaners by Gayle in his first spell, but to return and take the opener’s wicket with the first ball of his second was critical to England going 2-1 up in the series with one to play.
Liam Plunkett will take heart from being the tightest bowler on the day (five an over) while the temperamentally solid Chris Woakes should hopefully shrug off figures of none for 91 as just one of those days. Moeen Ali, meanwhile, faced a unique challenge from the tradewinds and short boundaries, alongside a freakishly dangerous batsman in Gayle.
Was it the day England proved, as Morgan later told his troops, they have more runs in their lineup than the opposition on most occasions? Or did it serve as a reminder that the bowling attack remains slightly vulnerable on the types of surfaces their batsmen so clearly love?
Time will tell. And perhaps we will only know England’s true feelings on the matter when the World Cup squad is revealed on 23 April and everyone scans down the list to see whether the name of Jofra Archer, uncapped and untested, is present or not.