Different format, different opponents, same old story for England starting their Twenty20 series against the West Indies with very different personnel, but in exactly the same style with which they finished the Ashes, with an embarrassing clatter of wickets as the soundtrack.
The tourists lost first the toss and then their cool as they dropped to 49 to seven before Chris Jordan and Adil Rashid inspired something of a recovery, but the West Indies, propelled by a suitably royal half-century of Brandon King, dropped their total of 103 appear suitably insignificant and won by nine wickets with 17 balls remaining.
A quarter of England’s innings had 30 balls thrown, only five scoring shots played and four wickets lost. By the end of the power play they were 26 for four and Eoin Morgan had had 11 deliveries for the score of one. When Sam Billings was stunned at the end of the seventh, England had lost 15 wickets for 95 runs across two formats and two continents – with Billings personally contributing two wickets and three runs to the long-range collapse.
The West Indies, which were knocked out for 55 when the teams met in Dubai at the Twenty20 World Cup last October, would probably never feel any sympathy, their only disappointment being that a wave of borders from Jordan and Rashid pushed the tourists past that total and carried England from the brink of humiliation to the sunlit highlands of triple figures.
The first over of the match ended with Sheldon Cottrell performing his famous march-and-salute celebration after Jason Roy completely missed a full toss, lost his center punch and set the tone. England’s opener had hit the previous ball for six, and the next player to score points was also promptly ejected, Tom Banton hitting Jason Holder for four before immediately moving to slip where Nicholas Pooran made a fine low catch. Moeen Ali hit his first ball straight back and England were 10 for three after two overs.
Morgan and James Vince seemed to have brought some semblance of normalcy to the proceedings as the latter two hit fours and a six from above on Cottrell. But just as the England fans, who made up the overwhelming majority of the crowd, might have sensed a sense of crisis that the crisis was going to pass, Vince cracked the last ball from the same Cottrell straight to the fielder into cover, and the collapse continued. .
There were many reasons for England’s failure: some early swing, some uneven bounce, some disciplined bowling and fine, clear fielding. Jason Holder got the best marks of his career of four for seven and was fantastic. But this low total normally involves a bit of self-destruction and Liam Dawson delivered the clearest case, pushing an Akeal Hosein delivery to Kieron Pollard, standing close to cover and heading out for a single before he slips away when inevitably told to turn around. Pollard returned the ball under the arm for Shai Hope to complete the runout.
England needed early wickets to have any hope of an unlikely win, and got none. Without much haste, Brandon King and Shai Hope led the West Indies to the 50 with no loss in the ninth over, just four overs faster than England, who were naturally seven behind at the time.
They got lucky along the way – Hope sent a pitch from Saqib Mahmood into the ground and just past his stumps and Dawson, who made his first T20i appearance in a month for four years, threatened both batters in the ninth over, ending with a nice delivery beating King but clearing the stumps – but with little pressure on the scoreboard they relaxed and showed real quality.
But King was beautifully composed and made some excellent shots – a huge slog from Rashid and a sharp cut from Tymal Mills – as he propelled his side home. With the second game of the series on Sunday night, England have little time to dwell on this achievement, but as one great man almost said, the memories of their battle from hell won’t be gone when the morning comes.