Spectacular Strauss seals victory
England's captain, Andrew Strauss, seized on an unexpected opportunity to haul his side level in their ODI series against West Indies, with the decider still to come in St Lucia next week,as he defied his unglamorous reputation to crack 79 from just 61 balls in a rain-readjusted run-chase in Barbados. Strauss's scintillating display included nine fours, four of which came in consecutive deliveries from Lionel Baker, and their second six of the series off Darren Sammy, as England easily hunted down their 20-over target of 135, after West Indies had earlier posted a competitive 50-over total of 239 for 9.
For large tracts of the afternoon, it seemed as though the match was destined to finish as a soggy washout. Heavy clouds rolled over Bridgetown to delay England's run-chase and leave West Indies with an apparently unassailable 2-1 lead in the series. But then the sun broke through at 4.30pm - the last possible moment of the match - and Strauss emerged from the pavilion to take personal responsibility for this one-off shot at redemption. By the end of the fourth over, England were 41 for 0 and the captain had made 32 of them from 17 balls. It may not have been as emphatic as Chris Gayle's assault in Friday's third ODI, but the effect on the match was identical.
The game-changing moment came from the final ball of the second over, as Fidel Edwards offered too much width and was slapped violently past point. That shot gave Strauss all the confidence he required, and before the next over was complete Baker had been carved over the covers, past backward point, through midwicket and over the slips, all for four. Baker's five maidens in Friday's fixture had been instrumental in stifling England's ambitions, but this time he limped from the attack having conceded 24 runs in two overs.
Strauss survived one significant let-off when, on 39, he edged Kieron Pollard low to Denesh Ramdin behind the stumps but was reprieved, perhaps fortuitously, by the third umpire. Undeterred, he brought up his fifty from 41 balls, before climbing into Darren Sammy with a four over the covers and a flat driven six over wide long-on. Ravi Bopara, hitherto an unnoticed sidekick, then added England's third maximum of the series - a monstrous heave over midwicket that resulted in a lost ball - before holing out to Nikita Miller for 35 from 39 balls one delivery later.
Fittingly, it was left to Strauss to wrap up the match with a dab for four through third man with nine balls to spare. His effort was all the more impressive, as his team's two most potent 20-overs cricketers, Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, were both nursing injuries after incidents in the field. Pietersen succumbed to a mysterious back spasm after bowling five deliveries at Shivnarine Chanderpaul and would not have been able to bat any higher than No. 7, while Flintoff required heavy strapping on his left thumb after spilling a low return chance from Dwayne Bravo, and would only have batted if required.
It was a stinging shot from Bravo that caused the damage, a full-blooded drive from a wholehearted cricketer who produced arguably his most authoritative innings since returning from ankle surgery. His spanking innings of 69 from 72 balls hoisted West Indies from an uneasy 145 for 6 in the 35th over, after Dimitri Mascarenhas had banished the memory of Friday's 24-run over with the superb figures of 3 for 26 from 10. Flinging the bat with abandon, quite literally on one occasion as he top-edged a Stuart Broad beamer for six and lost his grip in the process, Bravo cracked 50 runs in the final five-over Powerplay to lift his team back towards the ascendancy.
With Steve Harmison recalled (for the sixth time since September) in place of Gareth Batty, England relied on an all-seam attack, and found good pace and carry from another lively surface. For the first 12 overs of the innings, however, the only carry that mattered was the distance by which Gayle was clearing the boundary. On Friday he clubbed eight sixes in 43 balls, and today he carried on clearing the ropes with gusto, adding five more maximums in a 39-ball 46. After a relatively measured start, Gayle launched the second ball of Broad's second over into the stands at midwicket, and though he was desperately fortunate to survive a loud appeal for lbw next ball, the shackles had been broken.
Flintoff, England's go-to man in times of crisis, was flogged first-ball over long-on, just as he was in the Jamaica Test at the start of the tour, and Gayle repeated the dose in Flintoff's third over, this time over third man. Harmison also felt the full wrath of his blade, as Gayle dispatched another length ball over long-on, before Broad finally ended the fun, but not before he'd been belted for another six, this time over the covers. One ball later, Broad pulled his length back a fraction, and Matt Prior pouched a steepling top-edge as he jogged around to point.
Gayle's opening partner, Lendl Simmons, also got in on the act, in particular with a lofted pull off James Anderson, and by the end of the innings, West Indies' sixes tally for the series had clicked along to 23 in four games. But Simmons was badly run out for 29 when Ramnaresh Sarwan sold him a dummy while sizing up a second run to square leg, before Sarwan himself played on to Flintoff, who found extra bounce from a good length to dislodge the bails via an angled block into the crease.
Chanderpaul and Ramdin re-established West Indies' position in an unfussy partnership of 43 in 10.3 overs, a stand that was most notable for Pietersen's bizarre injury. Earlier in the week, he had made some uncomplimentary remarks about Chanderpaul's "selfish" play, in particular his regular absences from the field between batting stints. Chanderpaul had the last laugh in that regard, when Pietersen pulled up with a back twinge, and sloped ignominiously to the dressing room in search of treatment. It was his last sighting of the match.
Three balls after that incident, however, England climbed into the ascendancy, courtesy Mascarenhas. Ramdin ran out of patience and holed out to a back-pedalling Flintoff at mid-on; Chanderpaul, after a rain-break, feathered an attempted steer to third man into Prior's gloves, then it was back to Flintoff's bucket-like hands, as he reached spectacularly over the boundary's edge at deep midwicket to collect a top-edged pull from Pollard. There was some suspicion that Flintoff's left boot had brushed the rope as he completed the catch, but the replays were inconclusive, and Pollard departed for a seven-ball duck.
Though Bravo ensured against a total collapse, even his late-innings fireworks paled compared to the top-order heroics that Strauss conjured up for England. Somehow, England are not merely surviving in this series, on this evidence they are thriving. Gayle might want to think again about his planned boycott of the fifth ODI. All of a sudden there is a series at stake. Wonders never cease.
Re: Spectacular Strauss seals victory
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