It was England’s depth that saved them in Southampton.
Some teams, hit by injuries to two of their top four, would have struggled to cope. And some teams, realising they were a spinner short, would not have had a seventh bowling option good enough to dismiss two of the top six.
But so blessed are England with allrounders that both challenges were dealt with comfortably. And, for the third time in this tournament, they made light work of a dangerous opposition. Defeat here would have left England facing a real scrap to qualify for the semi-finals; victory allows them to breathe just a little easier.
There was some surprise around the ground when Chris Woakes strode out at No. 3, but there probably shouldn’t have been. He’s only played one Test since making a century, after all, while his unbeaten 95 in Nottingham in 2016 remains the highest score by a No. 8 in ODI history. With England deciding to disrupt their middle order as little as possible, Woakes was given the opportunity to play his natural game with the required run-rate barely four an over. He made it look easy, but there aren’t so many No. 7s or 8s in this tournament that could have done so.
Equally, Joe Root has never previously opened in ODI cricket. But he is a batsman good enough to have scored 180 as an opener in an Ashes Test, and he marshalled this run-chase with calm authority. Earlier, when England realised the ball was turning more than they had expected, he was given a rare opportunity to bowl – he had delivered just two overs in his 19 previous ODIs – and claimed important wickets. His career economy rate – 5.79 – is not so different from that of Glenn Maxwell – 5.61 – who was Australia’s fifth bowler in their most recent game. It’s a safety net few other teams can match.
It was a similar story in Cardiff. Despite losing Jos Buttler to injury while batting, England were still able to go into the field with a Test-quality keeper in Jonny Bairstow. That allowed Buttler the luxury of extra recovery time without the risk of exacerbating his injury. And it is telling that of the five men in history who have made a century and claimed two wickets for England in the same ODI, two – Moeen Ali and Root – are in this squad.
That versatility has given England a Plan B. As recently as March, when they were bowled out for 113 in St Lucia, there were doubts about their ability to adapt to different conditions and contexts as required. Increasingly, however, they are showing they can tailor their game to most situations.
But it is also allowing them to field an attack that doesn’t leave them overly reliant on spin, pace, seam, swing or cutters. With every bit of seven options to choose from, Eoin Morgan is rarely obliged to stick with a bowler enduring a bad day and is rarely short of an option that should suit the conditions. Increasingly his pair of express bowlers – Mark Wood and Jofra Archer – are emerging as the ace in his pack. Here they claimed 6 for 48 between them, giving England an attacking edge that had been the missing ingredient in this side for some time. If the backroom staff can keep them fit, they have the potential to play crucial roles in this tournament.
“Today is a very good example of our strength in depth,” Morgan said afterwards. “Strength in depth is something that we’ve worked on in order to plan for situations like this.
“We saw it in Sydney when Liam Plunkett went down in the first over [and Root bowled the rest of his allocation and England went on to win]. And we saw it in the Champions Trophy when Chris Woakes went down with a side strain in the first game against Bangladesh [and Root again helped bowl the extra overs].
“We’re very fortunate that we have three guys who can touch 90 miles per hour – it’s a strength of ours – but we also have a very good legspinner and a very good offspinner. We have areas covered all round. And if pitches do turn later in the tournament and wickets get older, those spinners might come into it a bit more.”
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That depth will be tested in the coming days. While there is reasonable optimism that Morgan will soon recover from the back spasm that sidelined him here, there is less confidence in Jason Roy’s availability for the next few games. If he has sustained a hamstring tear, he may struggle to recover before the end of the group stages (England’s final qualifying match is on July 3) which could leave England with a tricky decision to make over whether to call up a substitute. Once replaced, Roy cannot be called back into the squad.
Adil Rashid’s fitness is a concern, too. He has been suffering with a shoulder problem for a few weeks and is clearly struggling to bowl with the same bite that has rendered him such an effective wicket-taking option in recent times. His two wickets in this tournament have come at a cost of 101.50 apiece and there had been a plan to rest him on Tuesday – England play Afghanistan on a used pitch in Manchester – with a view to allowing him further recovery time. With just 13 fit men in the squad at present, however, and the England management also keen to rest at least one of Woakes, Wood or Archer, such plans may have to be shelved.
On the bright side, that may allow an opportunity for those in the squad who have yet to feature in the tournament – Liam Dawson, James Vince and Tom Curran – a chance to ease into the tournament before the knockout stages. While Root has shown he is more than capable of filling in an opening batsman, Vince will probably be given a chance at the top of the order in place of Roy. Moeen, it might also be remembered, has scored two ODI centuries as an opening batsman. This isn’t an ideal situation, but England are better equipped to cope with it than most.
England did have some fortune in this match. Winning the toss in this situation – with a dank morning giving way to a beautiful afternoon – was a significant advantage, while the strokes that dismissed Chris Gayle and Andre Russell would probably have carried for six at most other grounds in England. Equally, West Indies’ injury problems are arguably every bit as severe as England’s.
But two victories by more than a hundred runs have been followed by one by eight wickets with more than a hundred deliveries remaining. There is a long way to go in this tournament, but England’s depth, with bat and ball, is marking them out as one of the teams to beat.