Southampton: Often being good is about being boring. It means you stay away from adventurism and excitement and risks and go about doing your thing by the book without any surprises. You don't have to be a story; you just have to be good. In fact, most adventurists who live on the line where extreme disappointment briefly meets unbelievable glory and who fall either way depending on the day, would love to be just good. Not 'Eclectic', or 'Erratic', or 'Enigmatic', or any other word that starts from the letter E and basically means that you can't put a finger on the phenomenon.
England are that boring. England are that good. Their casual dispatch of the West Indies on Friday at Southampton was a reminder of the same. It will not go down as the most memorable World Cup game, but it will go down as two points for the hosts. And don't the West Indies often attract those 'E' words from cricket watchers? Yeah, they lost on the day.
England won the toss and asked the West Indies to bat first and then proceeded to bowl them out for 212 in 44.4 overs. The hosts then chased, no, ambled towards the target and reached it in 33.1 overs, shedding zero sweat and only two wickets on the way. The English pace duo of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood picked six wickets, three apiece, and Joe Root guided the batting with a calm century that also put him on top of list of run-getters this World Cup
Here are the talking points from the game:
ENGLAND IMPRESS WITH THE BALL
This English side will be remembered for its prowess with the willow. It is a batting lineup that doesn't end and has an abundance of batters that on any given day can explode like a ticking bomb. And while this might be one of the most dangerous batting sides in ODI cricket in recent times, it isn't much of a bowling outfit to write home about. Going into the World Cup, Archer's inclusion was the only thing of note about the English bowling.
But against West Indies, the hosts showed they might have strength in reserves when it comes to bowling too. Together with Archer and Wood, Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett brushed aside the West Indies top order. Chris Gayle tried to tilt the balance in trademark style, but ultimately the conditions demanded more than brute hitting. A mishit pull that might have cleared the ropes on another day at another ground went straight into Jonny Bairstow's hands near the boundary and Gayle departed on 36.
The West Indies middle order did put up a fight. Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer managed to put up an 89-run stand for the fourth wicket. The partnership was ended by Root, who put in a shift with the ball as well on the day. Hetmyer mishit a drive and sent the ball back from where it came: Root's hands. Root the caught and bowled the Windies captain Jason Holder, too, for cheap.
Pooran was the pick among West Indian batters and he stayed on at one end long after Hetmyer departed. He finally fell when a short one from Archer kissed his glove ever so slightly and flew into the keeper's hands. The review showed the smallest of spikes on the snicko and Pooran finally walked after his 63 off 78. Once he was dismissed, Archer and Wood gobbled up the tail in quick time.
It was a collective bowling effort from England. Woakes maintained a tight line and length and gave away only 16 from his 5 overs. Though Adil Rashid's form would be worrying England. He has had an underwhelming World Cup and failed to trouble West Indies on the day as well, giving away 61 runs from his 10 overs and failing to get a single scalp.
JOE ROOT GETS IT DONE
Root hit his second ton of the tournament and his third overall in World Cups and became the only English batter to do so. He guided England throughout the chase and his century came toward the end of it. Hundred not-out off 94 balls. He was ably supported by Bairstow first and then Woakes and England reached the target without much hassle or hurry.
Root who usually comes in at number 3, opened the batting for England on the day after Jason Roy had left the field injured early on during West Indies' innings. Roy seemed to have hamstring trouble and later captain Eoin Morgan also sat out owing to back spasms.
With two top four batters missing with injury, Root took matters into his own hand, as he usually does. Opening the batting for the first time, he played off West Indian bowlers on all sides of the ground; nothing but clean strokes.
Root also leapfrogged Shakib Al Hasan and became the top scorer this tournament with two centuries to his name to boot. There will be little surprise if that is where he ends up in the end as well.
While it was an easy win for England, they were left with injury concerns for two of their top four batters, Roy and Morgan. Roy seemed to pull his hamstring early on in the first innings and sat out in the eighth over. Morgan also left the field in the 40th over owning to back spasms.
This puts both Roy and Morgan, who are crucial to England's plans, in doubt for the next game against Afghanistan on Tuesday. Morgan said the side will do risk assessment before going into the next game. Roy left with a niggle in his left hamstring which will be scanned Saturday.
England would be hoping these injuries aren't serious as losing Roy and Morgan would throw off their batting balance.
WEST INDIES' ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL BATTING
West Indies have been both impressive and disappointing this World Cup. They made short work of Pakistan and then lost a closely fought game against Australia. They shared the points with South Africa before crumbling to loss against England. It is not yet crisis but there is a clear problem in how they bat.
It seems the entire team comes from the Chris Gayle school of batting, in that they do not believe in actually running for the runs. Hitting helps. Ask any of the English batters too, they would agree. The limited over cricket construct today is built on hitting. But hitting also only takes you so far. Batting according to conditions is important. Not all pitches are highways, not all grounds are Sunday parks. West Indies seem hell bent on bating like it's a 20-over game. Their side has a lot of power hitters and lot of talent, but they need to use that power in moderation. They need to pepper up the big hits with singles and doubles. The same happened in their loss against Australia, too. Instead of playing with a bit of moderation, West Indies kept going for big ones in the chase. The wicket of Russell, who insisted upon clearing the rope every ball he faced, became the turning point.
If the West Indies want to go far this World Cup, they must take a second look at how they bat. They must understand that batting isn't about one-size-fits-all.