There was drizzle and delay, quality and collapses, and eventually from the thick cloud that for much of the day blanketed Bridgetown emerged drama.
After the most ignominious of starts England dragged themselves back into the contest, and went into the final four overs with victory within their grasp. They just needed to keep their composure and their discipline, but at this key moment Gus Atkinson had neither.
His first two balls went for six, his fourth and last for four, and in the space of a few minutes England had lost the game and the series. At the start of the over West Indies needed 33 from 24, at its end nine from 18, and they got those with 14 to spare to win by four wickets. Romario Shepherd, whose vicious assault in the death overs did much to decide the first game, had done it again.
“You can’t get experience if you don’t give people experience to play and be in those situations,” England captain Jos Buttler said of Atkinson. “The series is the start of a new journey for this team – it’s a very young side barring myself in terms of experience, so guys will have taken a lot from this and learned a lot. There’s been some good performances throughout the way. Obviously we’re disappointed to lose the series, but the guys will be better for this one.”
In the end, England could not recover from the chaos of the opening 45 minutes, in which they were reduced to 49 for five. From there a match that because of repeated rain interruptions was both abbreviated – from 100 overs to 74 – and elongated – the fireworks and champagne corks at the presentation came nearly nine hours after the scheduled start – was never likely to end with an English celebration.
Between them Phil Salt, Zak Crawley, Harry Brook and Buttler scored five runs, and only one of the top six managed more than 17. They were supposed to build a platform, and instead they dug a hole. “If you go from 45 for two to 49 for five, it’s going to be hard work from there,” said Buttler. “But we bat deep, which allowed us to get up to a score, and there was a little period where it looked like we might be able to force a victory.”
But before the recriminations, the acclamation. On his international debut, the 21-year-old Barbadian fast-bowler Matthew Forde made a thrilling, instant impact, taking a wicket in three of his first five overs to kick-start England’s death spiral.
Forde is almost the stereotypical West Indian quick – tall, lithe and fast – and on a pitch from which the covers had only recently been peeled he found the conditions ideal for his purposes. Salt was the first to go, guiding the ball straight towards mid-off where Alzarri Joseph stooped and gathered. Crawley lasted only four balls, the last of them rearing up to clip a glove and loop in a miserable parabola to Alick Athenaze at second slip. After nearly snaring Will Jacks in each of his next two overs Forde got him in his fifth, finding the edge with another fine delivery.
At this point England were wobbling at 45 for three, nine overs into their innings, and in the next they keeled over, Brook run out and Buttler top-edging his first delivery to fine leg. A partnership of 88 between Ben Duckett, who top-scored with 71, and Liam Livingstone salvaged the innings, and though both fell to poor shots in quick succession England’s tail pushed the score to 206 off 40 overs.
A further shower saw six overs shaved off the West Indies innings, and 18 runs off their target. After Brandon King fell in the second over, Athenaze and Keacy Carty, redeeming himself with a half-century after two horrific drops in the field, put on 76 for the second wicket to set the home side on their way. Halfway through their innings they were 100 for three, and in control.
But in 14 consecutive overs of spin England managed to wrest it away from them. Rehan Ahmed was again excellent but Will Jacks was outstanding, his unbroken spell of seven overs bringing three wickets and just 22 runs.
As it ended, Shepherd had 18 off 21 and needed to pick up the pace; he faced seven more deliveries and scored another 23. In the middle to celebrate with him as victory was secured, appropriately, was Forde. “This is a dream come true,” Forde said. “Special for me, I thank all the guys for making it possible. In front of my home crowd, my mum and dad. It’s heartwarming.”