In only his second innings as an opener in One-Day Internationals, Jonny Bairstow smashed a maiden century in the format, hitting 100 not out off 97 balls to lead England to an easy seven-wicket win against West Indies in the first match of a five-game series at Old Trafford.
The win not only put England 1-0 up in the series, but also ended Windies’ hopes of earning direct qualification for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, that will also be held in England and Wales.
Sri Lanka was thus confirmed as the eighth side to qualify directly for the global event.
Having kept Windies to a modest 204 for 9 in a match shortened to 42-overs-a-side due to a wet outfield at the start, England romped to 210 for 3 in just 30.5 overs.
Coming into the series, Windies needed to go through unbeaten, winning by a 4-0 margin with a no-result or tie in the other game, or a 5-0 sweep. The loss means Windies, currently on 78 points, will not be able to overtake Sri Lanka, which is on 86 points, before the September 30 cut-off date for automatic qualification.
Before this match, Eoin Morgan, the England captain, had emphasised that Bairstow would have the opening slot and deserved a run there after waiting patiently in the wings for a long time. Bairstow repaid his captain’s faith amply, starting confidently and never letting up. England’s bowlers had kept Windies down to a below-par score, but one that could have turned into a tricky one if England had early setbacks. Bairstow not only ensured that didn’t happen but also kept the run-rate well in the green to guard against any possible slow-down later.
Alex Hales fell in fifth over for a quick 19 off just 14 balls, but after that, Joe Root (54 in 53 balls) and Bairstow came together for a 125-run stand that came off only 116 balls with neither man looking in a tearing hurry. Both were largely untroubled by the bowling, and kept finding the gaps. Root chopped Kesrick Williams on to his stumps against the run of play in the 24th over, but with Bairstow still going great guns and a long batting line-up, that was only a blip. Williams added the scalp of Morgan a couple of overs later too, but with only 29 needed at that point and 22.5 overs remaining, it was never going to seriously impact the chase.
In the event, Ben Stokes completed the job with Bairstow, with England having its best batsman and bowler of the night in the middle for the winning moment, which arrived just a ball after Bairstow had got to his century, Stokes tonking Ashley Nurse high and handsome over long-on.
Earlier, Windies had its captain Jason Holder to thank for pushing the total past 200. Holder scored an unbeaten 41 off 33 balls from No. 7 after Windies had stumbled following a rapid start. Windies had slipped to 160 for 7 at one point, but Holder ensured there was a good finish.
Chris Gayle marked his return to ODI cricket with a blaze of boundaries, hitting three sixes and two fours in his 37 off 27, but until Holder arrived, the rest of the line-up didn’t quite match up to Gayle’s fireworks. Shai Hope’s 57-ball 35 was a good hand, but he fell just when he looked primed for more. Hope pulled Stokes flat and hard, but Bairstow at deep midwicket held an excellent leaping catch.
Stokes also won his battle with Marlon Samuels, returning to the ODI side like Gayle after a long absence, strangling the batsman down the leg side to be caught behind. He ended with 3 for 43 while Adil Rashid’s leg-spin fetched him 2 for 31 and Chris Woakes returned 2 for 41.
While the series is still alive, Windies will now have to compete against Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Ireland, the three bottom sides in the ICC ODI team table, in the 10-team ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2018. Joining them in the qualifiers will be the top four sides from the World Cricket League Championship and top two sides from the World Cricket League Division 2. The top two teams from the qualifiers will be a part of the 10-team ICC World Cup2019.
For Sri Lanka, the result ended some tense weeks after it had been beaten 5-0 by India. “It’s no secret that we have been going through a tough time, but I want to say a big, big thank you to our fans who’ve kept faith with us when things looked bleak,” said Upul Tharanga, the Sri Lanka ODI captain, in a statement to the ICC after the Old Trafford result.
“ICC events have always brought out the magic in Sri Lanka cricket, and I look forward to proving that once again. We have a clear plan toward the World Cup, and we will work hard at achieving each step. As we say in the dressing room – Little 'w's (wins) add up to make the big 'W' (win) – so that's what we'll be focusing on and I know you will see Sri Lanka’s special brand of cricket out there once again soon.”