It would probably be an exaggeration to state that Phil Simmons, the Ireland coach, actually salivated while watching this match, but he can only have been encouraged by what he saw at the SCG. The man whose side take on West Indies in their opening game, on February 16, knows that they have an excellent opportunity to start with a win.
The days when such a result could be termed a giant killing are gone. West Indies are now the sick old man of world cricket. They still have players of rare talent, for sure, but the system that produced perhaps the greatest teams of them all have long since been broken. The members of the last West Indies side to win the World Cup are now old men and are living to see the era they created tarnished and trashed. Bankrupt, divided, shambolic and dispirited, the current WICB may preside over the end days of West Indies cricket as we know it.
Poor Jason Holder. Being appointed leader of this side at the age of 23 is a little like assuming the captaincy of Titanic just after it hit the iceberg. While nobody will remember this game once the World Cup begins, there was evidence to suggest West Indies have issues to conquer with their batting – they were bowled out within 30 overs – their bowling – Moeen Ali was reprieved after carving to point when it transpired that Holder had over-stepped – and fielding – when they did their chances of defending their meagre total little good by conceding overthrows.
There was little Holder could have done to prevent the defeat. He waved his arms and coaxed his bowlers well enough, but it was telling that Chris Gayle – who can certainly not have been exhausted by efforts while batting – did not take the field when England made their reply. Holder, who both euphemistically and factually has a voice that makes Jos Buttler sound like Brian Blessed, could have done with the show of support.
Buttler, by contrast, has recently been appointed as England’s official ODI vice-captain. That means that, should Eoin Morgan suffer an injury or be suspended for a slow over rate, he would assume the captaincy ahead of other candidates such as Stuart Broad, Joe Root or Ian Bell. The management – and Morgan in particular – rate Buttler’s cricket brain highly and, while his quiet voice may belie it, also his leadership potential. He is, in many ways, typical of this new England.
It was another quietly spoken young man who let his cricket do the talking here. Chris Woakes, extracting steep bounce and movement from this green-tinged pitch, was on a hat-trick in the first over of the match and finished with five wickets for just 19 runs. Bearing in mind his value at the start of the innings and his struggles at the death, England might consider bowling him out within the first 20 overs of the innings as they used to with Andy Caddick.
If Woakes’ first wicket, that of Gayle, owed something to fortune – the batsman was surprised by the bounce and gloved a catch down the leg side – the second was a fine delivery, angled across Darren Bravo and bouncing to take the edge. Both men had lasted just one delivery. Marlon Samules was fortunate to survive the hat-trick ball, as his tentative prod was beaten by the bounce and movement. Later Woakes had Dwayne Smith well caught at slip by a beauty that drew the batsman into the stroke and left him off the pitch. At the end of the first Powerplay, West Indies were 42 for 4.
They never recovered. While Lendl Simmons put away the short ball with comfort and swung one six off James Tredwell over midwicket, he received scant support. To see Denesh Ramdin, Marlon Samuels and Jonathan Carter miss straight balls was to see basic errors punished. To see Darren Sammy drive to mid-on and Andre Russell, with more than 20 overs left to bat, carving to cover was simply bizarre. To fold so meekly against a side that had rested its two most experienced seamers – James Anderson and Stuart Broad bowled in the nets instead – was feeble.
The only concern for England will be over the value of such an encounter. But while they might, in an ideal world, have liked to see their batsmen enjoy more testing competition, they will take more delight in the boost to their confidence such a result – sealed with nine wickets and more than 27 overs to spare – will deliver. Their bowlers harnessed the conditions expertly, the fielders were sure and the batsmen made no mistake. But really, when compared with the challenge that Australia will offer on Saturday, this was like warming-up for a wrestle with Hulk Hogan by arm-wrestling a butterfly