England move under lights to take on peak-form West Indies

<span>Nicholas Pooran made a scintillating 98 against Afghanistan.</span><span>Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Nicholas Pooran made a scintillating 98 against Afghanistan.Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The daytime starts in this men’s T20 World Cup may be kinder to British newspaper deadlines and, they claim more importantly, the television audience in India. But Twenty20 cricket in the Caribbean is really all about the bacchanal after dark; those sultry, steamy evenings under lights, where the white ball flies into stands that are already pulsing to a soca beat.

After four group games before sunset, England will step into the calypso tent at 8.30pm local time on Wednesday night, 1.30am back home, for their first night game of the tournament. They meet a buoyant, unbeaten West Indies at the ground that carries the name of their head coach and two-time T20 World Cup-winning captain, Daren Sammy. The first outing in the Super Eight phase for both teams, it could rival the street party atmosphere of Gros Islet’s famous Friday night Jump Up if the buzz in Sammy’s native St Lucia is anything to go by.

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A taster came on Monday night here. Even though both sides were already through, Rovman Powell and his men wowed their supporters with a serious flex of the muscles and a 104-run win against Afghanistan in their final first‑phase game; a more than handy steelpan tune-up for a date with the defending champions 48 hours later. Not that Andre “Muscle” Russell got much of a go, loosening up those bulging biceps as he sat waiting to bat only to face three balls at the back end.

Instead, it was the uber‑talented Nicholas Pooran, a mere slip in comparison, who helped to post a tournament high of 218 for five through an incendiary 53-ball 98. Amid the carnage was a World Cup record powerplay worth 92 runs, a fourth over that shipped a record‑equalling 36, and Rashid Khan, T20’s great prestidigitator, being taken for 24 in his final set of six. In a low‑scoring tournament, the green-tinged pitch at the old Beausejour is finally one for batters.

“We always knew St Lucia was going to be one of the better wickets, because of our experience in the Caribbean Premier League,” said Powell, the Jamaican whose side has now won four from four.

England Phil Salt, Jos Buttler (wk/capt), Will Jacks, Jonny Bairstow, Harry Brook, Moeen Ali, Sam Curran, Jofra Archer, Adil Rashid, Mark Wood, Reece Topley

West Indies Johnson Charles, Brandon King, Nicholas Pooran (wk), Rovman Powell (capt), Roston Chase, Sherfane Rutherford, Andre Russell, Romario Shepherd, Akeal Hosein, Alzarri Joseph, Gudakesh Motie

Daren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, Gros Islet, St Lucia, Thu 1.30am BST start

“So, it’s good that we’re starting [the Super Eights] here and we have played one game on it before the start. We’re accustomed to the boundaries and the wicket maybe. Hopefully that will suit us a little bit more than the Englishmen.”

Not that the Englishmen will be complaining, this the first of two games for them in St Lucia with South Africa to follow on Friday. Rain clouds, rather than the surfaces, have been their issue, with the 36-run defeat by Australia in Barbados their only chance to bat the full 20 overs so far (a task not helped by the over-par target of 202). On an island that witnessed its last volcanic eruption in 1766, they will be keen to explode. And on a ground at which 200 has already been breached twice, plus Australia and Scotland trading 366 runs, now is the time.

There is a good deal of familiarity between the two teams, of course, England’s white-ballers having been regular visitors in recent times, including the 3-2 defeat last winter when the rope was cleared 120 times in total. Among the most intriguing reunions will be Powell’s two left-arm spinners, Akeal Hosein and Gudakesh Motie, versus Jos Buttler’s predominantly right‑handed batting lineup. So far in the tournament the pair have shared 12 wickets and conceded fewer than five an over, with Hosein’s inswinging arm-ball one to keep an eye on.

To that end, a second left‑hander may enter the equation for England. Unless Ben Duckett steps up off the bench, it could be Sam Curran who gets another go here, with either he or Moeen Ali then having a chance to be pushed up the order tactically to disrupt Hosein and Motie and capitalise on the cross-winds that Pooran targeted so ruthlessly the other night. With Liam Livingstone struggling with a side injury, Curran could drop into his spot, unless Buttler and Matthew Mott decide to leave out Will Jacks and pack the side with all-rounders.

Equally, for all the talk of runs flowing like water, St Lucia’s extra bounce still offers incentive for the quicks. In white-ball cricket, Jofra Archer has met the team he might have played for in another life only once previously – claiming three for 30 in the 2019 World Cup group – and he will be itching to put on a show. Mark Wood, meanwhile, should return at the venue where arguably the quickest spell of his career was bowled, the maiden Test five‑wicket haul five years ago when keeper and slips stood closer to the sight screen (and batters inched towards square leg).

Reece Topley said the bowlers “may have to take their medicine” but, like the Caribbean as a whole, a fascinating melting pot looks on the cards: an in-form West Indies side, roared on by a partying crowd, versus an England side simply keen to get the feet moving. In a four‑team group in which South Africa take on USA earlier in the day, the losing side will instantly be off beat.