ICC World Cup 2019: Joe Root guides England to eight-wicket win over West Indies

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England reaffirmed their top billing in the World Cup by inflicting an eight-wicket win so crushing that it might send West Indies on a soul-searching mission if they aim to bounce back strong. Despite a decent start, West Indies’ innings capsized due to reckless batting and staying blind to the need of curbing their natural instincts. England, for all the predictions of this being one of the matches to look out for, strolled to a victory despite not having the services of Eoin Morgan and Jason Roy as batsmen. Jofra Archer too had his moments in what was his first match against his former team. He nixed countrymen Nicolas Pooran and Carlos Brathwaite before crashing into the pads of Sheldon Cottrell to end up with a haul of 3/30.

Staying true to the Calypso brand of cricket may work for West Indies in T20s. And it’s easy to be swayed in a format that requires a fast bowler to bowl just four overs and a batsman to stay at the crease for a short period. One-dayers, however, push limitations. And West Indies clearly have a few. Six out of their eight batsmen on Friday perished to catches, showing how crucial shot selection can be. Now is the time to dig deep and plan how to consolidate the batting in the middle, take more runs in the form of singles and see off the threatening bowlers. And it’s also probably time West Indies revisit their decision of making Andre Russell go through the suffering of bowling, only for the all-rounder to clutch his knee after the first over.

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But first, West Indies need to change their approach to batting. On Friday, they came across as a team that always plays all out, all brawn, little brain and poor planning. West Indies have a shambolic batting record in England. Only once in six matches in the last four years before this World Cup have West Indies crossed 300—356/5 against England at the Oval in 2017. They still lost. To come out firing on all cylinders against the same opponents when there is a cloud cover over the stadium is nothing but hara-kiri.

Still, the start wasn’t that bad. England returned the most economical first 10 overs in their campaign as West Indies reached 41/1—three runs less than what they had conceded to South Africa. Chris Gayle had played out 29 balls and looked good for a long innings. But only just. Gayle wanted to accelerate even though he had milked Chris Woakes for 10 runs in two balls four overs ago. Lack of awareness of the field too was visible in his shot selection. Instead of aiming for the shorter square boundaries, Gayle went for deep square-leg, spearing the ball and giving Jonny Bairstow all the time to pouch the catch.

The timing of dismissals exposed West Indies’ recklessness too. Not moving his feet or playing with a straight bat, Shai Hope gave England the opportunity to successfully review a leg-before appeal and West Indies had slumped from 54/1 to 55/3 in the space of three deliveries. Far worse was gifting the wickets of Shimron Hetmyer and Jason Holder to part-time bowler Joe Root who was brought on exactly for this. It should have alarmed the set Nicolas Pooran but he maintained his composure in the face of Russell’s whirlwind batting.

Russell is more effective with the bat when there is a target. This time, he just went with the flow till one of his hits didn’t have the power to cross over the boundary. Chris Woakes didn’t even have to move to complete the catch at deep midwicket. That was probably the sign for Pooran to break free. But a well-directed bouncer got to him, extracting a faint edge that only stand-in wicketkeeper Jos Buttler could hear.

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West Indies then managed to render the game boring with their inflexible tactics. Knowing fully that 212 can only be defended by dismissing England who were two batsmen short, West Indies still bowled short. Required run rate not an issue, England were only happy to let them go even though Jonny Bairstow got one on his visor from Russell. Apart from that, West Indies rarely created a dent in England’s batting confidence. Neither was there any visible urgency to attack the stumps or pitch the ball up nor the field placements were attacking.

Looking collected and calm, England broke little sweat to canter to the target. The batting was shuffled as Jason Roy was hamstrung and Eoin Morgan had to hobble off the ground with a back spasm. Root made full use of that opportunity, racing to an easy century, his second of this tournament, making him the highest scorer.

Hardly challenged by the West Indies pacers with their short-ball theory, Root was all elegance in his drives, be it the cover drive, straight drive or the backfoot square drive. Jonny Bairstow continued in his rich vein of form and Woakes too made the most of his sudden promotion. West Indies looked clueless, trying seven bowlers but bowling wrong lengths to defensive fields. Even Gayle was tried for a few overs as a probable partnership breaker. But that turned out to be a farce as well.

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