Ravi Bopara has been an England batting enigma: a man proud of his streetwise upbringing in East London but rarely able to bring that sense of astuteness to the 22 yards of turf that will make or break his cricketing reputation. But Bopara was calmness personified in Antigua as England batsmen flapped all around him and his unbeaten 38 secured a desperately-needed victory in a mundane contest.
This three-match series will be settled on the same ground on Wednesday and one hopes it will be more enthralling than this. At least England's stumbling display racked up the tension before they edged home by three wickets with more than five overs to spare. After a winter like the one they have endured, they will accept the win with relief.
A year ago, the England side contesting this ODI series in the Caribbean would have been presumed to be a 2nd XI. That might be regarded by some as an alibi, as a reason for patience, but without Bopara's poise, skittishly supported in an eighth-wicket stand of 58 by his captain Stuart Broad on a day when his luck was in, it would also have been presented as proof of the pitiful levels to which England's one-day cricket has sunk.
A turgid pitch, an eminently achievable target of 160 for all that, a maladroit batting performance: such was the story of a humdrum match in which England combined bewilderment against the spin of Sunil Narine with a series of soft dismissals. Had Broad's contest with Ravi Rampaul not been so blessed - a decision overturned on review, a hook falling safely at fine leg, a drop by Dwayne Bravo at slip - West Indies might have been celebrating a series win.
|Ravi Bopara stayed cool to steer England home © Getty Images
Shorn not just of the ego of Kevin Pietersen, but the more socially acceptable egos of Eoin Morgan and Alex Hales because of injury (the prognosis on both, incidentally, is more encouraging), England began by looking short of nous. Moeen Ali hooked into the wind, Luke Wright was bowled as he consistently failed to read Narine and when Michael Lumb's innings came to grief courtesy of Nikita Miller's lbw, self-doubt set in.
Root played Narine well, but he was deceived by a Dwayne Bravo delivery that stuck slightly in the wicket. Jos Buttler fell first ball, failing to ride the bounce of a bumper down the leg side, and Tim Bresnan was excellently run out by Dwayne Bravo from wide mid-on. In between that, Ben Stokes tickled Miller onto his pad and looped a catch to Denesh Ramdin, and chose to walk even as the umpire Joel Wilson shook his head. Stokes should not be castigated for his integrity, not for one moment, but one can bet that some place, some time, he will receive an homily about "professionalism".
If they were grateful for Stokes's honesty, West Indies had reason to be aggrieved about a pivotal event in their innings - the dismissal of Dwayne Bravo. From the moment TV umpire Marais Erasmus ruled Jos Buttler's stumping of Bravo was legitimate, West Indies' flow silted up like a Somerset river. The dismissal came the ball before the compulsory Powerplay and, instead of marching into it with two batsmen set - Bravo and Lendl Simmons - they reached it at 133 for 5 and lost five more wickets for 26, Rampaul illustrating their mental collapse when he holed out at long-off against James Tredwell with more than five overs left.
The on-field umpires had turned to Erasmus when Bravo was drawn down the pitch by Tredwell and Buttler lost the ball in the process of completing the stumping. Buttler conceded that he was unsure when the ball had escaped his grasp and TV replays seemed maddeningly inconclusive, but not so for Erasmus who ruled that Bravo was out. Ottis Gibson, West Indies' coach, did not hide his exasperation, rising from his laptop to hold out his hands towards the middle in disbelief.
Stephen Parry, England's debutant left-arm spinner, finished with three wickets and the man-of-the-match award. Parry is very much a one-day specialist, having played only six first-class matches by the age of 28. He acquitted himself well, showing none of the qualms suffered by another Lancashire slow left-armer, Simon Kerrigan, on his Test debut against Australia at The Oval last season.
His contribution in the batting Powerplay was crucial. Simmons had again played judiciously and when he struck Parry over long-on for six, the stakes were ramped up. Parry held his nerve, the next ball was a touch shorter, and Simmons's half-hearted attempt at a repeat fell well short. As West Indies fell away, Parry picked off Darren Sammy at short midwicket and had Sunil Narine stumped, this time a fail-safe affair from Buttler.
The first half of West Indies' innings was a drag. For those who missed the first one-day international in Antigua, the teams staged a repeat. England again managed four wickets by halfway, West Indies' top order played with a bit more energy, but effectively the outcome was the same: a collection of spin bowlers drawing suspicion from West Indies' batsmen as they wheeled away to good effect.
Root's dismissal of Kirk Edwards was the highlight, owing much to a fast catch by Tredwell at slip as the batsman tried to force through the offside. Broad had good moments against the Bravos, causing Darren to drag on from the wicket and finding enough venom in a bouncer to strike Dwayne on helmet and neck and necessitate treatment.
If Broad could therefore claim to have two Bravos, it was Bopara who ultimately got three cheers. Sheepish cheers perhaps, but it was a celebration that England desperately needed. "We made it quite hard work for ourselves," Broad said.