ST LUCIA: A quick-fire half-century by Jonny Bairstow led England to a comfortable four-wicket victory against West Indies in the opening game of their three-match T20I series in St Lucia. After Nicholas Pooran’s impressive fifty anchored West Indies’ innings in the face of a strong all-round England bowling performance, led by Tom Curran’s 4 for 36, Bairstow charged towards the target of 161 from the outset.
West Indies were not helped by some loose bowling and even more costly fielding. They got wickets, too, as Bairstow lost batting partners Alex Hales, Joe Root and Eoin Morgan as well as being dropped twice but he did not even flinch, racing to his fifty off 27 balls and reaching 68 off 40 before lofting Ashley Nurse to Carlos Brathwaite on the midwicket boundary.
While the danger wasn’t completely removed for England, Bairstow had set them off to such a strong start that nothing short of a serious collapse would see them beaten. Kent team-mates Joe Denly and Sam Billings all but completed the job with a 50-run partnership for the fifth wicket so that when Jason Holder had Denly caught by Pooran for 30 off 29 balls, England needed just eight runs to win. But there were nervous moments to come when Billings was dropped on Holder’s next ball by Oshane Thomas, whose one-handed attempt at fine leg was a mess. Then Sheldon Cottrell added his third wicket with his first ball back into the attack, bowling Billings for 18.
England still only needed seven runs but four byes off Cottrell eased the tension and they reached the target with seven balls to spare. West Indies kept the squad which drew the ODI series 2-2 with England but made two key tweaks to the side that won in St Lucia on Saturday, bringing in Pooran and Fabian Allen for John Campbell and Devendra Bishoo.
Shai Hope opened in Campbell’s place alongside Chris Gayle and immediately received a second chance when Adil Rashid dropped a sitter at third man off David Willey in the first over. Fortunately for England, however, Root held on to a leading edge at midwicket off Curran in the next over and Hope was sent packing with West Indies 7 for 1.
Surprisingly, with Gayle at the other end, it was Shimron Hetmyer who hit the first six three balls later. But, sure enough, Gayle chimed in with two of his own in the following over and it looked like the slog-fest promised by his 39 sixes in the one-day series would continue in the shorter format.
It was not to be, however, and when Gayle fell just a short time later, caught by Rashid at gully off Chris Jordan for just 15 off 12 balls, Pooran’s inclusion became key. After a stuttering start to his international career because of an 18-month layoff after injuring both his legs in a horror car accident in 2015, the 23-year-old Pooran made his ODI debut in the first fixture of the series against England in Barbados last month, scoring a duck, dropping a catch and holding another.