Strauss hails England character
Andrew Strauss always had faith in his never-say-die England team to cling on to a World Cup lifeline against West Indies.
There seemed no way back for England during Andre Russell and Ramnaresh Sarwan’s seventh-wicket stand of 72 as West Indies closed on a vulnerable 243 all out under lights at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
Defeat would have signalled yet another early exit for England from a competition they have never won in 36 years of trying. But James Tredwell, who finished with 4-48, returned to claim the key wicket of Russell before Graeme Swann removed Sarwan and Kemar Roach en route to figures of 3-36.
Jonathan Trott then ran out last man Sulieman Benn as England sealed an 18-run victory to keep their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals alive, with West Indies’ last four wickets falling for just three runs.
Even Trott’s misfortune, narrowly clipping the boundary cover with the brim of his sunhat as he fell taking an outfield catch and therefore conceding another six to Russell on 39, did not demoralise Strauss’ England.
“I still thought there was another twist in the tale,” said the captain. “After Trott’s ’catch’, it was easy for heads to possibly drop at that stage.
“But the guys were remarkably buoyant all the way through. I think we really felt that something was going to happen - and thankfully, it did.”
England have made a habit of close-run matches over the past two weeks but have prevailed in three and are therefore highly likely to progress to the quarter-finals as long as other matches do not go conspicuously against them this weekend.
Strauss has had to dig into his reserves of man-management, as well as tactical awareness on the field, to keep his team on track during bouts of illness and poor form from key players.
“It’s been a tough few days, trying to get myself and the rest of the lads up after the Bangladesh defeat [last Friday] - which hurt us pretty hard - then falling ill myself and having to make some tough calls selection-wise,” he admitted.
“But I was buoyed by the thought we had one more opportunity to show what we could actually do in this World Cup. None of us wanted to go home tomorrow morning, and we were very motivated to not let that happen.
“It was another very tough game to play in. It was a much better wicket than the game against South Africa [at this same venue], and we were probably 20 or 30 (runs) light.
“There was a lot of responsibility on the bowlers to pull us over the line. Clearly we were desperate to win and weren’t going to leave anything behind. But we needed guys to take early wickets - Tredders did an outstanding job, getting (Chris) Gayle out in particular.
“More than anything, I think it was the togetherness that got us through. We’ve been through some pretty tough times together this winter as a group - and we didn’t want to be leaving this World Cup at this stage. I wish it wasn’t as close as it was, but we’re delighted to have won the game.”
Trott’s misfortune on the long-on boundary appeared to be a killer blow, but England accepted the marginal third umpire call and just kept trying.
“Trotty said he didn’t feel anything, but obviously they thought there was a reason to give it as a six,” said Strauss. “We all took it on the chin, and I thought the guys dealt with it really well. We just thought he must have touched the boundary line.”
Although Strauss claimed to have remained optimistic throughout the match, Swann admitted he thought England’s World Cup hopes had evaporated.
“I thought we’ve had that many close games that it was just not going to happen,” he said.
When asked if he felt England were about to lose, the off-spinner replied: “I did honestly. I thought ‘It’s one of those nights’.
“We have dug ourselves a hole and we are slowly stepping out of it. It was up there with the Ashes for raw emotion.”
Swann praised the performance of his spin partner Tredwell, who was handed the man-of-the-match honours in his first appearance at the tournament.
“Tredders has come in and done my job for me,” he added. “He’s had a long winter on the sidelines so I’m made up for him. Well done Tredders.”
Tredwell claimed the first three wickets to fall, including the crucial scalp of Gayle, who had plundered 43 from just 21 balls.
After spending most of the tour of Australia and then this tournament on the sidelines, Tredwell admitted he was pleased to grab his chance.
“I was first of all delighted to get an opportunity to play and then take it and get a few wickets,” he said.
“I was a little surprised to get the call, but having seen the last game here when it turned sideways, I thought I was a chance.
“It has been a little bit difficult (sitting on the sidelines) and you hope you can take your opportunity when it comes along. Hopefully I’ve done that today. I haven’t done myself any harm.”