Yesterday in Chennai England had to beat the West Indies to stay alive in this tournament.
A potential enters the body of a cricket match at the toss, it travels through all the parts of the game until it leaves one side at the moment of defeat. This is Prana, the force that strings together the bodies, minds, and wills of the players, like beads on a strand.
As any gardener knows, the life force never fails to surprise us with its vigour. If frost or drought appears to kill our favourite plant, we should not root it up and cast it aside too soon. Who has not smiled and reflected on the power of life as they have spied green shoots appearing from the driest deadwood previously discarded in the compost heap?
It is unlikely that such thoughts entered the heads of Sammy and Strauss as they swapped team lists and made their way to the middle.
Yet Prana was to be stronger in the body, the mind and the will of England on that day. It was active from the vital toss which they won and which allowed them to set the total that the West Indies would chase. It was not to be a very strong total and it might have been even weaker.
Strauss and Prior set off vigorously with the ball making its lively way at pace from the wicket as if the West Indies were playing at home on some old Kensington shinning track.
Prior looked like a man drowning, out of his depth and seeing his life flash by him in an instant at this level and it only required a straight one from the rookie Russell to scythe him down.
Strauss, at the other end, has developed a secret formula for operating in One Day Internationals which he keeps to himself but which is revealed in movements of his stance immediately prior to delivery; stepping leg side now, or off side next, advancing for this one or staying back for that with each of these selected gambits accompanied by its appropriate attacking shot. It is the forceful, physical manifestation of the England captain’s favourite aphorism; ‘never send your body where your mind hasn’t first been’.
But throughout a frenetic day, no batsman truly flourished, no one scored fifty, and so, almost predictably, Strauss succumbed at 31 hooking, Trott at 47 playing against the turn of a second new-boy, Bishoo, and Bell at 27, surprised by the pace and a hint of reverse from the Marshall-like Roach.
In many cricket matches runs are punctuated with wickets, like heat-waves interrupted by thunderstorms. In some, the drama is revealed in the punctuation of a stream of wickets by runs, like the buds on a hibiscus tree. This was one such match, but no less exciting for that.
At 151 for 6 in the 33rd over, England’s chances of winning looked exhausted.
The West Indies relaxed. Their fielding and demeanour waned. Sammy took off the conscript Bishoo with two of his ten overs unutilized.
Theis gave a breathing space to the spirited Wright (44) who, first with Tredwell (9) until he self-destructed on the crucifix of a mis-field, and then with Bresnan (20) revived England’s hopes so that, despite wasting eight of the allotted balls, they harvested a robust 243 on a wicket that had provided Bishoo and Benn with sufficient bounce and turn to excite the digestive juices of England’s experienced off-spinners, Swann and Tredwell.
Will power is a wonderful thing and the West Indies decided to rely on it to take them to victory. The insouciant Gayle swatted eight fours and a six on his way to a typically nonchalant 43 in 21 balls. But Tredwell from around the wicket slid one on to fasten him ‘leg before’.
Then entered Sammy (41), who had elevated himself from a scorecard six to a real-time three and would have perished for nought, if England has had a short leg rather than a leg slip. Given a second life, he lifted three enormous sixes ten rows back into cow corner.
Yet in this innings, like the first, runs were but an interruption to the steady flow of falling wickets and at 150 for 6 it was this time England who seemed to have strangled the very breath out of the Windies.
At which point Russell, entity unknown, strode to the wicket to join Sarwan who, batting at six and knowing that there was an abundance of balls remaining but a fast growing scarcity of wickets, was endeavouring to husband those which remained.
Russell showing yet again in this competition the fearlessness of inexperience made hay at the expense of England’s pace attack, garnering the day’s top score of 49 in 46 balls. When in the 42nd over he faced Tredwell at 222 for 6 the West Indies now had their foot firmly across England’s wind pipe needing just 22 to win with the largesse of 52 balls and four wickets in hand.
But England were stronger in their conviction. Their off-spinners still had a handful of overs remaining. And so it was that Tredwell trapped Russell. Swann had the doughty Sarwan snaffled at short leg and then Roach netted second ball.
At which point Benn mindlessly sacrificed himself to the powerful arm of Trott who threw with steadfast aim to Prior with the toiling batsman well short of his ground.
England’s life force had endured by 18 runs with more than five overs remaining. It may still be snuffed out by the exertion of other teams, but there is a strong likelihood that they will subsist into the quarter finals.
Then we shall see whether spring time has truly come for England or learn that winter has another cold snap in store, finally, to freeze their vitals and extinguish their Prana.