CHENNAI // In the end, the team that needed to win this game more did. England have been inconsistent and entertaining in equal measure during this World Cup and their odyssey should, barring an unlikely combination of results involving the remaining two games in Group B, now take in a quarter-final in Mirpur next week.
With West Indies 222 for six, needing just 22 from 54 balls, a flight home beckoned Andrew Strauss and his men.
Andre Russell, playing only his second game, had followed a spell of four for 49 with the ball with a belligerent stroke-filled 49. Alongside Ramnaresh Sarwan, he had added 72 to bring the finish line into view.
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But England too had an unknown ace to play. James Tredwell had gone wicketless in his first three one-day games, but having been preferred to Michael Yardy for this game, he transformed it with an opening spell where he took three wickets.
Job not quite done, he returned for a final over and trapped Russell leg before.
Graeme Swann did the rest, as England mopped up the last four wickets for three runs in the space of 20 balls. “Togetherness got us through,” said Strauss after supervising a sixth consecutive nerve-wracking game. “None of us wanted to go home tomorrow morning.”
The team management made some big calls before the toss and each was rewarded.
Ajmal Shahzad was injured and ruled out of the rest of the tournament, while James Anderson and Paul Collingwood were dropped.
In came Tredwell and Luke Wright, whose 44 previous games had seen a batting average of 21.86 and 15 wickets.
When Wright came to the crease, England were on the verge of sinking, having stumbled from 94 for two after 15 overs to 151 for six.
By the time he was out caught in the deep for 44, England had added another 65 to give the bowlers something to defend.
Neither Tredwell nor Wright has had a busy winter. The fatigue and homesickness that have afflicted the likes of Anderson has passed them by.
“Mental freshness is a great thing in a cricketer,” said Strauss. “But it can also be hard to come in without having had any match time.”
Another of the fringe players played his part too. Having failed with the bat, Ravi Bopara filled in for another of the benched stalwarts, Paul Collingwood.
No more than medium pace, he stuck to an off-stump line and waited for the mistakes that eventually came from a West Indies batting line-up that was not shot shy.
They struck an astonishing nine sixes in all, but badly missed the sort of steadiness that a Shivnarine Chanderpaul, watching from the pavilion, might have provided. Five went past 24, but not one made a half-century.
Ottis Gibson, their coach, cited the conditions as the reason for the gung-ho approach. “We knew that once the ball got softer, it would be a problem,” he said. “It turned a lot more. What it needed was someone to see us home but that didn’t happen.”
West Indies can still feature in the quarter-finals if South Africa beat Bangladesh in Dhaka tomorrow.
“If they don’t, the men from the Caribbean have to see off India in front of a full house in Chennai on Sunday.
Whatever happens tomorrow, Gibson insisted that they would give the India game their full attention.
“We haven’t beaten a top team in about 20 months,” he said. “We’d like to change that.”
They can take great encouragement from the performance of Devendra Bishoo, the 25-year-old Guyanese leg-spinner who showed plenty of skill and composure in taking three for 34 on debut.
However, the manner of their capitulation today – the two off-spinners took seven for 84 between them – more or less ensures that India will play both Harbhajan Singh and R Ashwin on Sunday.
Gibson used to be England’s bowling coach and was appreciative of the way his former wards had fought their way out of a corner.
“They’re scrappers,” he said. “Someone seems to put their hand up each time. They’ve got the resilience we’re looking for.”