England produced another one of those white-knuckle, heart-stopping performances to put on hold the long flight back home it would have taken today if it had lost to the West Indies.
Instead, following a nerve-tingling 18-run victory in a must-win contest at Chennai, the squad gets on a much shorter flight to Delhi Friday to prepare for the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
Only unlikely victories for both the West Indies and Bangladesh in the final Group B games could derail England’s hopes. On paper, one would expect South Africa to run over Bangladesh on Saturday and India to beat the Windies on Sunday. But since the Group B form book has been torn to shreds, who knows what else is in store?
England has produced the most thrills in this competition as it has kept its fans hanging on to the edge of their seats during its six-match roller-coaster ride.
It pulled out a narrow win over minnows Netherlands in the first game, followed by that incredible tie against India. Then England was clobbered by Kevin O’Brien and Ireland, but bounced back to surprise South Africa. Then came that loss to Bangladesh.
England’s form has kept most, if not all, the experts hopping. It’s been a Jekyll-and-Hyde act. No matter the quality of the opposition, no one knows which England team will show up.
The team that showed up Thursday was one that did not want to return home early. It could be the Delhi chapattis that beckoned instead of fish and chips.
England was all out for 243 and the West Indies was bundled out for 225, an amazing collapse for a team that was coasting to what appeared to be an easy victory. The losers lost their last four wickets for two runs, slumping from 222 for seven to 225 all out.
The damage was done by off-spinners Graeme Swann and James Tredwell, who was a surprise selection. Swann finished with three wickets for 36 runs and Tredwell and his tantalizing spinners brought him four for 48 and man-of-the-match honours.
The ever-dependable Jonathan Trott made 47 and Luke Wright, making his first start in the tournament, weighed in with 44.
Two West Indians making their debut also made their mark. Medium-pacer Andre Russell captured four for 49 and then hit 49, while spinner Devendra Bishoo took three for 34 off his 10 overs.
Chasing that modest England total, Chris Gayle hit England like a gale force with 43 runs off just 21 balls. That forced England captain Andrew Strauss to take off his pacemen after four overs. Gayle slammed 18 runs each of both Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett.
But Tredwell stemmed the tide as he accounted for the wickets of Gayle, Devon Smith and Darren Bravo in quick succession.
Skipper Darren Smith, who surprised by coming in at No. 3 instead of six or seven, made an outstanding 41. The reason he bumped himself up the order was apparently because the regular one-down bat Ramnaresh Sarwan was in the washroom.
“I thought: ‘We’ve had that many close games that a win was just not going to happen,’” Swann told Sky Sports. “I did honestly think we would lose.’’