England’s new template for winning one-day internationals withstood a first fleeting demonstration of West Indies power - and captain Alastair Cook believes it will do so again.
The second match of the NatWest Series will take place at The Oval tomorrow, and England will start it 1-0 up with one to play after their 114-run D/L win at the Ageas Bowl.
That victory was a fifth in succession for Cook’s team, following their unexpected 4-0 trouncing of Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
It was built on a wonderful century from Ian Bell, only his second in 109 ODIs on his return to the top of the order in place of the retired Kevin Pietersen.
Bell’s personal triumph was a rewarding sight for a batsman of the highest class who has underachieved in a stop-start 50-over career, and needed 10 stitches in his chin and was nursing a cracked jawbone too after a mishap in the indoor nets on Friday.
England’s victory also contained a warning of West Indies’ capabilities, however, in a brutal half-century from the tourists’ own substitute opener Dwayne Smith.
He might not even have been playing, had Chris Gayle not succumbed to a shin injury; yet Smith’s string of fours and sixes off England’s pace bowlers raised the possibility of a successful chase.
England summoned Tim Bresnan, and Smith was the first of the Yorkshireman’s four victims - vindicating Cook’s faith again in the theory that West Indies cannot just keep hitting England’s finest without encountering significant and telling risk.
So it was as the Windies subsided to 172 all out.
Cook was therefore able to trumpet his team’s tactics, but is wise enough to sound a note of caution too about the threat from the Windies in the remaining two matches.
“It’s worked for us in the past,” he said. “We’ve gone in with that tactic of trying to play to our strengths. It makes it very hard for the opposition to get away from us.
“It’s bloody hard to do that against four genuinely quick bowlers and a world-class spinner.
“At some stage on good wickets it might happen, but I’m always going to back our bowlers to be hard and to keep coming back even if they do go round the park.”
There must have been a fair whiff of relief, though, when Smith mis-pulled at that short ball from Bresnan and gloved a catch behind?
“Smith played really well at the top of the order, but as a captain standing at mid-off knowing you can throw the ball to four genuinely quick world-class bowlers it makes it very comforting,” said Cook. “Everyone was saying at the beginning of the series how tough they’re going to be as a one-day side - and they are. To win by 100 runs after losing the toss is really good from the lads.”
England are going to extremes at present in their one-day form, these five consecutive wins following five defeats on the trot away to India - a sequence which itself came after a similarly impressive run of success for Cook’s team.
It can be no coincidence, of course, that Bell was continuing an unbroken series - in those same five matches - of a century from one of the openers.
Cook was responsible for the first two; Pietersen for the next two.
The captain does not profess to know the elixir of such health at the top of the order, but is naturally hoping Bell can double up too - or he himself nips in again.
“I don’t want to give away all our trade secrets,” he said.
“It would be nice if it can continue. We’ve made a real point about the top four - but I don’t know why it’s happened five in a row.”
West Indies, meanwhile, were hampered on the south coast by Gayle’s absence and then a groin injury during the match for Darren Bravo.
They do not yet know whether either, their best batsman and their most promising one, will be back on Tuesday.
Smith, however, is confident he and his team-mates will be able to put a chastening defeat behind them.