England 136-1 (Strauss 79no) beat
West Indies 239-9 (Bravo 69) by nine wickets (D/L)
Fourth One Day International, Barbados
By John Pennington
England showed plenty of character as a timely return to form helped them bounce back from another blistering assault from Chris Gayle to beat the West Indies in the fourth One Day International in Barbados and set up a decider in St. Lucia on 3rd April.
England managed to restrict the West Indies to 239 for nine and after heavy rain reduced their target to 135 in 20 overs, Andrew Strauss led the way with an outstanding display of devastating hitting himself as he closed unbeaten on 79 as his side got home with nine wickets intact and seven balls to spare.
Losing the toss was no hindrance for Gayle, who blasted 46 in 39 deliveries, including sixes off of Stuart Broad and Andrew Flintoff while at the other end, James Anderson was effortlessly driven for a maximum by Lendl Simmons (29) as the pair put on 72 for the first wicket in 12.4 overs.
A smart piece of bowling had Gayle skying the ball and he was caught by Matthew Prior. Simmons was run out when Ramnaresh Sarwan called and then sent him back and shortly after Sarwan (6) was bowled by Flintoff as England fought back.
Chief architect of this resurgence was Dimitri Mascarenhas and he bowled a searching spell, returning three for 26 in ten overs - just two runs more than he conceded in one Gayle boundary-ridden over two days ago when England were mauled during an eight-wicket defeat.
His medium pace accounted for Shivnarine Chanderpaul (27), Denesh Ramdin (26) and Kieron Pollard (0) as the West Indies almost lost their way in the middle overs.
They were put back on the straight and narrow by some excellent batting from Dwayne Bravo, with the all-rounder hitting seven fours and two sixes before he was caught by substitute fielder Ian Bell off of Broad, who finished with three for 63; an impressive recovery after he was savaged by Gayle early on.
More clean hitting from Gayle saw him bludgeon five sixes and three fours but more wickets late on meant that the West Indies were not able to capitalise on another fine start from the left-hander, who smashed 80 in 43 balls at the same venue on Friday.
Strauss, no less talented a left-hander than Gayle but rarely as explosive then produced a superb innings that put England on top of the game and hinted that he may yet deserve a spot in the Twenty20 side.
He cut, pulled and glided Lionel Baker for four fours in a row and launched Fidel Edwards over the covers to ensure that the opening Power Play belonged to the tourists.
He and Ravi Bopara stole singles with a combination of sharp running and lax fielding and following a spell where no boundaries were scored by either batsmen, Strauss took on Miller, sweeping powerfully over midwicket shortly before he brought up his half-century in 39 balls.
Strauss then opened the batting Power Play by advancing down the track and hitting Sammy hard over the covers for his eighth boundary but the shot of the innings was the one that followed immediately afterwards. Long-on was brought in and his response was to step away to leg and punch the ball over his head for six.
Bopara reached 29 before he opened his boundary account in stunning fashion when he put Pollard onto the roof of the Greenidge and Haynes stand but an attempted repeat one ball after saw him spoon the ball high in the air and he was nicely caught by Miller at deep fine leg.
With Kevin Pietersen unable to bat due to leaving the field of play with a back spasm during an over earlier in the day and Andrew Flintoff suffering with an injured thumb, Matthew Prior (14 not out) was sent in at number three.
It hardly mattered who they sent out, as by the time Bopara departed, England needed less than a run per ball and Strauss was looking on top of everything. However (and only Ramdin will truly know the answer) he was possibly given a reprieve before he had reached 50. He edged behind and the low catch to the wicket-keeper went upstairs; the doubt instilled by the foreshortening of TV cameras benefitted the batsman and he certainly took full advantage, helping England turn in a performance that was arguably their best of a difficult winter.
Fittingly, it was Strauss who hit the winning runs before both sides allowed Steve Bucknor, standing in his 181st and last ODI, to lead the teams off the field and receive a warm and deserved ovation from the Kensington Oval crowd.
© Cricket World 2009