West Indies enter tomorrow’s third and final Twenty20 International at Kensington Oval with a 2-0 lead and in the unfamiliar position of being close to sweeping a team rated higher than they in international cricket.
The match takes on greater significance for both teams with the imminent ICC World Twenty20 Championship in Bangladesh just days away from its opening game.
While Ottis Gibson and captain Darren Sammy have much to feel pleased about after two convincing victories, England, without the services of the forcibly retired Kevin Pietersen, have more questions than answers going into the match.
England’s limited-overs coach Ashley Giles admitted his team badly needed a victory tomorrow.
“We’ve lost five in a row,” he said. “Clearly we’re not playing very good Twenty20 cricket, and we haven’t done for a period now.
“We’ll go into that [Bangladesh] tournament as underdogs anyway. Every game we play, we go and play to win. But we’re just not getting into matches. That’s the biggest concern.
“Four of the last five occasions, we’ve been three down at six overs. If you consistently do that, you’re behind the eight ball.”
England repeated that unhelpful habit as West Indies clinched the series on Tuesday, mustering only 30 for 3 in the powerplay before Jos Buttler and Alex Hales did their best to keep them competitive.
“As good as the players we’ve got coming into our middle order, it’s very difficult for them to salvage games from those positions,” Giles said.
“Jos gave us a glimpse of how well he could play – it was nice to see Hales back in the runs and to play a slightly different role through the middle.
“But you’re always up against it.
“We made a really good fist of it in the end, but we were 20 to 30 short from our start.”
England have been generally clueless against the West Indies’ main spin threat Sunil Narine and they have found leg-spinner Samuel Badree equally parsimonious, if not as mesmerizing. They did not have to contend with Narine in the second match on Tuesday but had a different challenge in the swing and guile of the under-rated left-armer Krishmar Santokie who snared a career-best 4 for 21.
“We’re consistently having problems with spin,” Giles said. “In Bangladesh it’s definitely going to play a part.
“We’d be naive and stupid to think that probably every team we come up against is not going to open up with spin against us
“We have to try to find a formula at the top.”
England have recruited Ian Bell, as a replacement for the injured Joe Root, but it is yet to be seen whether a player with almost 100 Tests and approaching 150 One-Day International caps will be a Twenty20 remedy too.
In the meantime, Giles must try to give current incumbents some self-belief.
“Our message is, quite clearly, ‘go and express yourselves, we back you, go and play your way’,” Giles said.
“But I think, as much as you say that, you have to understand that guys who are struggling for runs – in the heat of battle, with options going through their head – are sometimes going to hesitate. If you slightly back off that option, choice, decision you’re going to get into trouble,” he added.
Luke Wright, with bat in hand, has looked like a deer caught in headlights in the middle of the street. He has endured a prolonged slump in form and could get the chop, although his useful medium-space bowling could keep him in the side as an addition to that of Ravi Bopara’s whose off-cutters have provided a few headaches for the West
Barbadian-born Chris Jordan has been waiting patiently on the sidelines for a chance to play on what was, only a few months ago, his homeground. But whether he gets the nod ahead of the expensive Jade Dernbach could depend on the conditions that greet the teams tomorrow.
Sammy is keen for a clean sweep of the series and have few concerns going into tomorrow’s match.
“We wanted to leave here with good momentum going into the World Cup. For two games it has been a complete team effort, I can’t fault the lads. In Twenty20 cricket the momentum shifts at different times, we wanted to make sure we started well and we finished well too,” he said.
However, despite the explosive starts which he has been getting from opening pair Dwayne Smith and Chris Gayle, neither has gone on deep into the innings and he will be hoping that Smith in particular make better use of his good starts. Gayle recently returned to the team after an injury lay-off and has been gradually returning to his explosive best.
“Chris is one of the most explosive Twenty20 players and Smith allows Chris to play in that manner. Cricket is all about partnerships, we bowl in partnerships and when we bat it’s very important. Gayle, we know how destructive he can be, but he gives himself time and Smith gives him that time by going hard at the ball. Then we know we’ve got power at the end with myself and Bravo,” he said.
Consideration might be given to the inclusion of either Andre Fletcher or Johnson Charles for the final game with an eye on Bangladesh. If the West Indies management go this route all-rounder Andre Russell could once again find himself as the man missing out. He has been promoted up the batting order but is yet to produce a significant score while his bowling has been roughly handled in recent times by opposition batsmen. Game time is 2 p.m.