After three games, this series has had a distinct Wild West (Indies) feel to it. The matches have been disorderly yet enjoyable, defined by players making and breaking reputations, those with poor aim being defeated in one-on-one confrontations, individuals being quick to use their weapons, and innocent bystanders taking cover. And when it comes to England, a new leader has emerged.
After making his international debut two and a half years ago, Phil Salt has played in 19 ODIs and 20 Twenty20s. Despite being excluded from the World Cup squad and not being included in the England and Wales Cricket Board’s list of centrally contracted players, Salt has proven himself to be an important player for the white-ball team.
His stunning, unbeaten century on Saturday in the third T20, just the fifth by an Englishman in the format and the best since 2014, set the seal on it but Salt has stood out across the tour. Since landing in the Caribbean he has outscored Will Jacks, the next most prolific batter, by 86 runs, and is averaging 48.8 with a strike rate of 164.86.
He expressed, “There is nothing quite like the feeling of walking off the field in an England jersey after winning a game.” “Jos [Buttler] mentioned this in the dressing room after our previous game and we were hoping for someone to step up and do the same in this series.” He has now stepped up to the challenge.
Salt made his international T20 debut in Barbados in January last year, coming in at No 6 just ahead of his fellow debutant Harry Brook. They were beginners then, but this is their team now. On Saturday we saw a new side to Brook, who is not normally a particularly fast starter. Of his 23 previous innings for England in the format, after seven balls he was either already dismissed or still on single figures in 19 of them, and had only exceeded 15 runs once. On Saturday he scored a scarcely credible 31.
Brook explained that during his innings, he made a conscious effort to stay calm and composed. He believed that getting too tense would negatively affect his performance and cause him to miss opportunities. According to Brook, maintaining a preternatural level of composure was key in such a high-pressure situation, allowing him to approach the game with clear focus and determination to achieve a big score.
England initially struggled in this series and with two games remaining, they could still finish with a poor record. However, their performance on Saturday has temporarily alleviated concerns about the leadership of Buttler and Matthew Mott. These concerns were brought to light due to their string of disappointing performances at the World Cup and continued poor form in this series. While their bowling unit has not been impressive, it is worth noting that few touring bowlers have left this venue with improved reputations in recent years. The emergence of Salt and Brook, both young players, as key contributors in Saturday’s game has shifted attention towards a promising future for England.
England faced a tough task on their tour against a team with a poor track record in recent T20 World Cups and not being able to qualify for this year’s 50-over version. However, the West Indies team is known for their exciting batting skills and are well-suited to the current playing conditions. They convincingly defeated Australia in a T20 series in 2021, England in 2022, and India this year, showcasing their ability to hit frequent sixes. When asked about the upcoming T20 World Cup, Brook commented that it is expected to be a contest filled with big hits against the West Indies team.
In the last World Cup held in the West Indies in 2010, there were a total of 278 sixes scored in 27 matches. In the previous tournament, which took place in England less than a year before, there were only 166 sixes. Fast forward to 13 years later and in only three games between England and West Indies, they have already hit 75 sixes, which is 27% of the total from the previous tournament. This places them eighth on the list of the most six-heavy bilateral series in history, with two matches remaining.
Four out of the top eight series on the list have taken place in the West Indies since 2021. There seems to be a certain atmosphere here, a mixture of conditions that is quite intoxicating. As we approach the final two games, it may be best to set aside any lingering questions and simply savor the experience.