There couldn’t be worse ways to launch a title defence. The West Indies, world champions, T20 ninjas, crash-landed to 55 all out in 14.2 overs, against the team they had toppled to the title, five years ago at the Eden Gardens. If ever England went into the game with revenge on their mind, it might have ended in trading empathetic glances at their devastated opponents.
Memories of that electric night in Kolkata seemed distant, perhaps as distant as the virtue of logic and West Indies batsmen. It’s fathomable if high-class bowling precipitates a meltdown, the torture of body and soul West Indies fast bowlers of the yore repeatedly subjected English batsmen to. But this was merely a case of what can, at best, be called a mockery of a batting show, a case of contagious and collective brainfreeze. A manual on how not to bat, in any format, at any level.
Evin Lewis mistimed his chip of Chris Woakes and was pouched adeptly by a springing Moeen Ali; Lendl Simmons struck the ball sweetly but straight into Liam Linvingston at deep midwicket. West Indies stumbled to 2/9 in 2.2 overs.
The situation called for knuckling and seeing through the storm. For a few overs, Chris Gayle and Shimron Hetmyer did exercise caution. But not for long. After thumping Ali for two gorgeous boundaries and dead-batting the third, conveying false notions that the most dazzling of West Indies fresh crop batsmen, Hetmyer dragged a flat, fast short of length ball straight to mid-wicket. So aghast was he that he showered himself with a volley of abuse.
Eight balls later, Tymal Mills rushed Gayle into a pull, the only instance wherein a genuinely good ball, though not a non-negotiable delivery, winked out a wicket. More often than not, Gayle would have deposited the ball in the stands, but here, he underestimated Mill’s steep bounce and pace. He would have escaped undamaged but for the athleticism and awareness of a back-pedalling Dawid Malan at midwicket.
Thereafter, it was just a matter of keeping the West Indies batsmen quiet. Ali was exemplary at that, rattling in 18 dot balls. Dwayne Bravo, unusually pushed up the order, cut a Chris Jordan ball straight to the fielder at backward point. Nicholas Pooran had a wishy-washy swipe outside the off-stump, his feet static, and edged to the keeper.
In strode out Andre Russell, one of the heroes of the 2016 triumph, his team at 44/6. Then the first ball he faced, he tried to smack it out of the ground. A hideous leg-side heave to a left-arm seamer bowling from over the stumps and slanting the ball across. He was beaten neck and crop. This injudicious approach embodied the mess. He is bowled the next ball, by an Adil Rashid slider that slithered through his exposed gate. The England leggie picked up three more scalps to end his end with scarcely believable figure of 4/2 including the wicket of Kieron Pollard, the last flickering hope of the champions. Often it was an unfortunate case of two for the price of one for Rashid. But, alas, the match would be remembered more for West Indies’s comical meltdown than Rashid’s twinkling variations.
The night ended more ruefully for them, as England stuttered in their chase, were 39/4 at one stage, but the target was too low to make a serious contest out of it.