The ability of the West Indies to compete in Twenty20 internationals is well known. In Tests and ODIs the men from the Caribbean have faltered and flopped over the last decade but going into the game with England, they were ranked second in the T20 rankings, just behind hosts India.
Such is England’s consistency in underperforming in global events, their inability to compete in white-ball cricket has become a cliché.
Thing is, going into the game England should have fancied their chances. While the West Indies have remained in the upper echelons of rankings they hardly played T20 cricket last year. In fact, in the last 12 months, they played just two matches before Wednesday’s clash at the Wankhede in Mumbai, winning one and losing the other.
The lead up to the tournament saw the Caribbeans lose the services of Sunil Narine, Keiron Pollard and Lendl Simmons, three players who would have been certain starters had they been available. Their ranking is more historical than accurate.
England, on the other hand, had been undefeated in T20s in 2015 ahead of their trip to South Africa where they lost two close matches. They would have still felt confident going into this match with a settled side and a clear game plan.
It did not take long for the West Indies to return to the form that had got them to the top of the T20 tree and it did not take long for that rare glimpse of pre-tournament optimism from England to disappear.
England batted well enough even when Jason Roy departed early to a typically lackadaisical shot that saw him balloon a slower ball into the waiting hands of Samuel Badree at midwicket. From there, Alex Hales and Joe Root took the fight to the West Indies, with Root being by far the most impressive. What England’s No.3 does so well is that he scores quickly with so little fuss.
Root has a career strike rate of 135, identical to that of Jos Buttler. While Buttler achieves his runs with massive shots down the ground, Root gets there with measured accumulation. In many ways scoring that quickly with so little flourish is more impressive. That is not to say Root can’t play the big shots, his no-look hook for a six off Andre Fletcher was an example of that.
Root’s 36-ball 48 was the glue that held England together, and when he was also dismissed by a Russell slower ball, England lost their way. Having looked set for a score above 200, England only managed 182.
Given Wankhede’s flat pitch, small boundaries and a ball from wet from dew, 182 was a par total at best. Combined with England’s samey and inefficient pace bowling attack, they were up against it defending this total, even against a West Indies side missing Simmons and Pollard. Not that it was impossible, but England had gone from favourites at the halfway stage of their innings to underdogs by the time it had finished.
Chris Gayle made that total look laughably small. The West Indies reached 55-1 off the six-over PowerPlay and 85-2 off 10 overs. None of the England seamers looked like causing Gayle any trouble as the world’s leading T20 batsman eased his way to an unbeaten century off 48 balls.
This was always going to be the problem for England at this event. Their batting is as good as it has ever been in limited overs cricket. They have players that are dynamic and attacking by nature and instinct. But the bowling looks woefully short of class. In fact it looked far, far worse than even England’s harshest critics would have claimed before his first match.
Adil Rashid showed glimpses of what he can do, but the rest of England’s bowlers were just not good enough to bowl to Chris Gayle — the Bradman of Twenty20.
All the seamers struggled to contain Gayle, or any of the other West Indies players for that matter. Stokes and Topley were the most profligate but none emerged from this game with any credit. Even though both Willey and Topley bowl left-arm over, there was so little variety that it didn’t seem that Gayle needed toget out of third gear.
Such are England’s bowling issues, for them to compete against the best sides they will require their batsmen to set a total above par in every game. For the next match, England need to bring in Liam Plunkett. His extra pace brings something different to the table.
The man who should probably sit out would be Chris Jordan although he was actually one of the least awful bowlers in this game. Even then it is rearranging their pawns when they are a few moves away from check mate.
England have made progress in white-ball cricket, and it is vital that they do not lose faith in their new found approach that actually has a chance of giving them success on the global stage but they need to find pace bowlers that give them something different. A repeat of this terrible bowling performance in the next match against Afghanistan or the one after that against Sri Lanka will mean a semi-final shot will be gone before the tournament has even got going.