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by Mick the Ram
In a game that swung both ways throughout, it was the West Indies who forced their way to victory in the first T20 international against England in Bridgetown, Barbados.
The match at the Kensington Oval began at 6pm local time, making the toss vital and Rovman Powell won it for the West Indies, putting his opponents in on a ground where chasing a target is consistently successful.
Andre Russell was included in the team, making his first appearance for his country since November 2021, and he played a starring role in a confidence-boosting victory, coming on the back of an excellent ODI series win against the same opposition.
The second of the 5-match T20 series begins on Thursday 14 December in Grenada.
Asked to bat first
England skipper Jos Buttler promoted himself up the order to open the innings with Phil Salt, having been asked to bat first by Rovman Powell, who said of the pitch at the time of the toss: “It looks a pretty good surface, so we have got to restrict those English batters. We go in with six specialist batters, and three all-rounders,” hinting at a belief that they had enough power in their ranks to overhaul anything the English could set.
Gamble with two wrist spinners
For England they made the unusual decision to find places for both wrist spinners – Rehan Ahmed, who had showed up well in the ODI series, and experienced Adil Rashid, who was making his 100th T20 appearance for his country.
England flew out of the blocks and had fifty up inside five overs. Then the sixth over from Alzarri Joseph was despatched for 26 runs to leave the visitors in a very strong position of being 77-0 at the end of the power play.
However, the very next ball Salt was out, caught brilliantly on the boundary by Shimron Hetmyer off Andre Russell. Will Jacks came and went, but Joseph was struggling, with his first two overs costing 43 runs and England were 112-2 at the half-way stage, with Buttler looking in good nick, and a score well in advance of 200 looked on the cards.
Duo lead fight back with excellent spells
It was around this time that the West Indies wrestled back some control, restricting runs and picking up wickets at regular intervals. Romario Shepherd completed an excellent spell of 2-22 and with Russell taking a hugely impressive 3-19, the home side were right back in it.
Only 4 runs came from overs 18 and 19 at a time when sides are usually pressing the accelerator. In a dramatic collapse England lost their last 5 wickets for just 6 runs, to be all out for a disappointing score of 171.
They had completely lost their way and the initiative was right back with the West Indies.
No taking it steady
There was no need to tear after the total, openers Brandon King and Kyle Mayers could afford to take their time, but of course that is not their way and 3 sixes were clubbed off the first 8 balls and after just 2 overs they were already 30-0.
A stunning catch by Ben Duckett accounted for King, but when Rehan was introduced to the attack he went for three more maximums in his first over, leaving the West Indies 78-1 off seven.
Rashid took his 99th England T20 wicket to remove Mayers, but at halfway and with the score at 99-2, it was the home sides game to lose.
Century of wickets
Rashid then got his 100th wicket next over and with Rehan finding a better rhythm, 108-4 didn’t look quite as strong. Then the rain came and players were off the pitch for a period of time, and on return 55 runs were needed going into the final 6 overs.
Rehan then took 2 wickets in 2 balls and suddenly 47 were needed off 30 balls and England appeared to be back on top.
At the wicket were captain Powell and he had been joined by Russell, both powerful hitters.
Deserved player of the match
The 17th over would be the turning point bowled by Tymal Mills. He was plundered for 16 runs, meaning that only 15 were then required off the last 18 balls.
The spirit had been knocked out of England and fittingly Russell – who was named player of the match – hit the winning boundary to close out a 4-wicket victory, with 11 balls to spare.
Next up Grenada
The series now moves on to Grenada, with the next two fixtures on the 14th and 16th December, at the National Stadium in St George’s.