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by Mick the Ram
The first one-day international of a 3-match series between the West Indies and England ended in a thrilling four-wicket victory for the home side, at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua.
Set an unlikely 326 to win, the West Indies appeared to be heading for defeat when they found themselves requiring 106 off the final ten overs, but captain Shai Hope stepped forward to produce a glorious knock of 109 not out off just 83 deliveries, and guide his team home with seven balls to spare.
Overhauling England’s 325 smashed the previous record run-chase on the ground, beating the 275 they chased down in 2021, against Sri Lanka.
Entering the penultimate over the West Indies needed 19 to win, but the skipper smashed three sixes in four balls to make the final over unnecessary, and unsurprisingly he walked away with the player of the match award.
The series resumes on Wednesday 6 December, at the same venue.
Both captains happy at start
England won the toss and elected to bat, although captain Shai Hope stated that he would have chosen to bowl anyway, pointing to a little moisture in the pitch which he said they wanted to exploit.
Jos Buttler said he believed the surface would stay the same through the 100 overs, so wanted to make first use of it. He promised to be positive and on the front foot throughout the series, with a lot of new players in the team.
England off to great start
England were away to a flyer, with openers Phil Salt and Will Jacks crashing 50 inside the first 6 overs, including four sixes. The introduction of Gudakesh Motie split them with the score on 77, when he dismissed Salt for 45, then as so often happens, his partner followed immediately, caught by the captain Hope off Alzarri Joseph; which had the effect of significantly slowing the scoring down.
Scoreboard ticking along
Zak Crawley and Ben Ducket steadied things, but both were uncomfortable against Yannic Cariah, who managed to bowl Ducket behind his legs, to leave England at 110-3 after 16 overs. At that stage the West Indies would have been looking to restrict their opponents to under 270, whilst England would still have been eyeing up a total around the 350 mark.
Crawley kept the score ticking along without ever really cutting loose and had a remarkable escape when he had 30. He aimed an almighty slog at Cariah, but Motie at long-off spilled the simplest of catches.
It was a very poor effort and Crawley survived another chance off the same bowler in his next over, before running out of luck, when he literally ran himself out going for an impossible single.
Terrible run of form
At that stage England were 181-4 with 20 overs to go and captain Buttler arrived at the crease. He had a shocking World Cup in India and he looked badly out of sorts, scratching around for 3 off 13 balls, before getting a reverse-sweep all wrong and top-edging Motie to slip.
At the other end however, Harry Brook was going along nicely and he completed a fine 50 and went on to top score with 71, eventually falling to a slower ball from Romario Shepherd, who had earlier also accounted for Liam Livingstone.
With nine overs remaining and the score on 239-7, England were in danger of falling well short of a competitive total. Sam Curran and Brydon Carse eased any worries though with a quick-fire 66 partnership, off just 39 balls.
Eventually both fell, along with Rehan Ahmed and Gus Atkinson, but not before both hit a boundary – Ahmed’s an extraordinary straight six. It was England’s 13th maximum of the innings and meant every player had contributed at least one boundary… except for skipper Buttler.
The visitors were all out off the final ball for 325, with 2 wickets each for Shepherd, Mottie and Oshane Thomas, leaving West Indies to chase 326 to win.
Openers give side perfect start
Needing to score at 6.5 an over, Alick Athanaze and Brandon King got the West Indies off to a great start, and they were always close to the required rate during their century opening partnership.
Athanaze made an impressive 66 before missing a googly from Rehan Ahmed, to leave the home side 104-1. Then just as the England openers had done, one followed the other in being out and suddenly it was 106-2, and tight bowling by Ahmed and Livingstone saw the required run rate climb above eight an over, heading into the second half of the innings.
Always “Hope” when captain at the crease
Crucially, the captain had now come to the crease and there was a feeling that while ever he remained, so too did the chances of victory. Nevertheless, with 15 overs to go, 146 were still needed and the run rate required had got up to almost ten an over.
Hope was playing an anchor role and completed a steady run-a-ball fifty, but when the potentially destructive Sherfane Rutherford – having lifted his first ball over the rope for six – was out cheaply, it looked a tough ask to reach their target.
No stopping the skipper
Romario Shepherd came in and played a brilliant innings of 48 off just 28 balls, which proved to be a turning point. When he was out to the first ball of the 48th over, only 24 were needed and by this time, Hope was in full flow.
For England, Sam Curran was having a torrid time bowling and it seemed an incredible decision by his captain to persevere with him, as over after over, he was smashed all around the ground. He was taken out of the attack, but inconceivably, was brought back for the crucial 49th over.
The West Indies captain needed no further encouragement and three mighty blows saw his team home to a famous victory, with the beleaguered Curran going for 98 in his spell.
It had been a masterclass from Shai Hope and the victory will be a huge boost to the spirit in the camp, as they prepare for the next game on Wednesday.