Sam Curran, England spinners star as Will Jacks, Jos Buttler seal 203-run chase

Will Jacks acknowledges his half-century
December 06, 2023

England 206 for 4 (Jacks 73, Buttler 58*) beat West Indies 202 (Hope 68, Rutherford 63, Curran 3-33, Livingstone 3-39, Rehan 2-40) by six wickets

Sam Curran and Jos Buttler bounced back to form with ball and bat respectively, while Will Jacks served further notice of his opener's credentials with a vital half-century on an occasionally capricious pitch, as England squared their three-match series against West Indies with a hard-fought six-wicket win under the floodlights in Antigua.

In the final analysis it was straightforward enough, particularly once England's senior pairing, Harry Brook and the captain Buttler had overcome a mid-innings wobble to accelerate past a sub-par target of 203 with an unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 90 from 78 balls.

Buttler, so crushingly out of form through that abject World Cup campaign, finally felt the scales fall from his eyes as he bombed the legspinner Yannic Cariah for back-to-back sixes over long-on, before rushing through to his first half-century in 14 innings with a trademark wristy drive off Oshane Thomas. He finished unbeaten on 58 from 45 balls as Brook sealed the victory with 103 balls left unused, with the series heading now for Saturday's decider in Barbados.

It was not, however, the most taxing assignment of England's recent ODI history. In truth, the result was scarcely in doubt from the moment that West Indies, asked to bat first, had stumbled to 23 for 4 in the first seven overs of the match. Though they staged a partial recovery thanks to a 129-run stand between their captain Shai Hope and their newest recruit Sherfane Rutherford, who made a half-century apiece, they then lost their last six wickets for 50 runs in their next ten overs, with England's spinners Rehan Ahmed and Liam Livingstone sharing five between them.

And then, once Jacks and Phil Salt had belted out of the blocks to post a 50-run opening stand in the first six overs of their reply, the result was never truly in doubt. With a violent attitude to anything remotely off-line, Jacks hacked six fours and four sixes in his 72-ball stay, the most eye-catching of which was a startling inside-out launch through a wide yorker from Thomas.

The only real seed of doubt came while the left-arm spinner Gudakesh Motie was getting the ball to grip and pop from his round-the-wicket approach. After Salt had played around Romario Shepherd's hard lengths to be bowled for 21, Motie picked off Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett in consecutive overs to check their onslaught at 85 for 3, and when Jacks was pinned on the shin by a shooter from Rutherford, England were four-down inside 20 overs, and facing a potential test of their frayed resolve. Brook and Buttler ensured that the jeopardy was only fleeting.

After another correct call at the toss from Buttler, England had been on the front foot from the moment they started their bowling stint. Alick Athanaze, the driving force of West Indies' first-wicket century stand, was this time prised out for 4 in Gus Atkinson's second over, and before the next over was done, West Indies were two-down.

Curran had endured a chastening day in the opening contest, disappearing for an England-record 98 in 9.5 overs. But now he found his mojo, probing the bat on that waspish full length that has proven so effective in his T20 career. Keacy Carty chased some width across his bows before Brandon King pressed forward on off stump - both men picked out the bucket hands of Zak Crawley, stationed at a lone wide slip. Curran then pinned Shimron Hetmyer on the pad before he had scored. The inswinger seemed to be sliding down leg. Buttler, however, figured he might as well roll the dice, and was rewarded as Hawkeye showed the ball to be thumping leg stump.

West Indies had lost three wickets for three runs in the space of 14 balls, and it was already a case of damage limitation. Hope, however, in the wake of his superb hundred on Sunday, wasn't about to let the scoreline cramp his style, and three flowing boundaries in Atkinson's next over got the scoreboard moving again, each of them eased effortlessly down the ground.

It signalled the start of a doughty 129-run stand between Hope and Rutherford, whose six-and-out innings on debut on Sunday had at least given an inkling of the power at his disposal. Having overlooked the spin of Jacks in that contest, Buttler threw him the ball for an exploratory spell after the first powerplay, but Rutherford picked him off for a brace of off-side boundaries, after Hope had launched Brydon Carse over midwicket for the first six of the match.

Carse, however, kept pounding out his aggressive length, and as Rehan entered the attack for another spell of precociously probing legspin, it was as if Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid had been reunited through England's middle overs. On this occasion, neither man was able to force the breakthrough, but until Rutherford brought up his half-century with a hoisted six over deep midwicket off Rehan, the pair had been limited to a solitary edged boundary in 56 balls.

That stroke was the signal for Rutherford to up his tempo, with two thrashed boundaries to greet Livingstone's second over. Before he could consolidate, however, Livingstone bounced back in his subsequent over, inducing a scuffed drive to short cover for 63, and after Cariah played all round a straight one to be bowled for 5, Livingstone made it three wickets in as many overs with the big scalp of Hope.

It took a superb delivery to dislodge West Indies' captain and linchpin - a big-ripping legbreak, which dipped and gripped to thump the top of off stump and send him on his way for a run-a-ball 68. Hope swished his bat in annoyance as he left, knowing how crucial his endurance had been to his team's hopes. At 163 for 7 in the 34th over, England sensed a chance to go in for the kill.

Shepherd seemed to have other ideas as he helped himself to four fours in Livingstone's sixth over, to threaten a similar bout of late acceleration to his matchwinning hand on Sunday. Before he could go big, however, Rehan tempted him into a miscued slog to long-on, and when Motie skewed Rehan's googly to point, Rehan was able to sign off with another very impressive spell of 10-1-40-2. West Indies' spinners did their best to match those standards, but the damage had already been done.

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