GROS ISLET, St Lucia – Nicholas Pooran’s career-best half-century was overshadowed by a shoddy West Indies fielding effort, as England rode their luck to breeze to a four-wicket win in the opening Twenty20 International of the three-match series today.
Defending 161 at the Darren Sammy National Stadium after the left-handed Pooran slammed a top score of 58, the hosts grassed four chances and England capitalised to reach their target with seven deliveries remaining.
Man-of-the-Match Jonny Bairstow stroked 68 off 40 deliveries while Joe Denly chipped in with 30 off 29 balls, as the visitors took a huge stride towards their first series win of an otherwise disappointing tour.
Left-arm pacer Sheldon Cottrell, who finished with three for 29, created some late drama when he bowled Sam Billings at the start of the penultimate over for 18 but the strike came too little too late for the Windies as the pair of Tom Curran and David Willey easily got the remaining seven runs for victory.
Sent in earlier, West Indies were spearheaded to their 160 for eight by Pooran’s entertaining knock while left-hander Darren Bravo stroked 30.
Seamer Curran produced career-best figures when he picked up four for 36 while Barbados-born medium pacer Chris Jordan was brilliant in taking two for 16 from three overs.
West Indies needed the efforts of Pooran and Bravo to pull themselves out of a hole after they lost their first three cheaply with 37 on the board at the end of the fifth over.
Shai Hope failed to make the most of a chance to Adil Rashid at third man off the third ball of the innings when he had made four and perished in the next over caught at mid-wicket by Joe Root off Curran for six.
The left-handed Gayle then whacked a couple of sixes in the third over from Willey, the first a clip of his legs over midwicket and the second, an uppercut to third-man.
But he failed to extend his rich form from the one-day series and fell in the next over to Jordan, squeezing a full-length delivery to Rashid at short third man with 31 runs on the board.
Shimron Hetmyer, who got off the mark by imperiously lofting Curran over the long on ropes in the second over, gifted his wicket in the fifth over when he tapped a full toss from the same bowler to Liam Plunkett at mid-on to depart for 14.
Pooran arrived to put all his class on display as he carved out his second half-century in the format, in a crucial 64-run, fourth wicket stand with Bravo.
Playing with characteristic abandon, the 23-year-old struck three fours and four sixes while Bravo belted a four and a couple of sixes in a 30-ball stay at the crease.
He lost Bravo in the 14th over, brilliantly caught and bowled by Jordan after getting a leading edge off a slower ball, and Carlos Brathwaite followed in the next over, caught at the wicket off leg-spinner Rashid from the sixth delivery he faced.
On 127 for six in the 17th over, the Windies innings wandered thereafter as only 33 runs came from the last 19 deliveries, as Curran grabbed two of the three wickets to fall.
The floodgates opened from the start of the England innings when Cottrell gave up 17 runs before bowling Alex Hales off the last ball of the over for 11, after the batsman had survived a chance to Brathwaite a few balls earlier.
Speedster Oshane Thomas’s next over leaked 14 runs with Bairstow thrice finding the boundary but Cottrell pulled things back for the Windies when he hit Root in front in the third over before the Test captain had scored.
Two partnerships then put the game out of the Windies’ reach, however. First, Bairstow put on 51 for the third wicket with captain Eoin Morgan who made eight from 16 balls before tugging seamer Brathwaite to Gayle at mid-wicket in the ninth over.
Bairstow, dropped on 34 by wicketkeeper Hope off Brathwaite and then again on 52 by Cottrell in the deep off off-spinner Ashley Nurse, went on to hit nine fours and two sixes before finally drilling Nurse to Brathwaite in the deep in the 12th over.
There was enough time for Thomas to put down Billings (18) in the 18th over off captain Jason Holder as the right-hander and Denly added exactly 50 for the fifth wicket to put England in sight of victory. And even though both fell in the space of four balls, there was no way back for the Windies.