Ravi Bopara kept his cool in Antigua to get England over the line at last for just their second victory in 15 matches this winter.
In his 101st one-day international, and at the venue where Bopara played his first breakthrough innings for England, albeit in a losing cause at the 2007 World Cup, he saw the job through for a nervy three-wicket win which levelled the series against West Indies at 1-1 with one to play.
In pursuit of only 159 all out on an awkward surface at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, after debutant spinner Stephen Parry had taken 3-32, England’s reply found major trouble offering uncomfortable reminders of the winter’s previous mishaps as they lost two wickets for one run and then three for two.
Amid the chaos, though, Bopara emerged at No 7 – in an unbroken stand of 58 with his captain Stuart Broad – to prove England can close a deal after all.
Bopara has, statistically, played many more significant innings. But in a time and place, his unbeaten 38 here was utterly invaluable as England prevailed with more than five overs to spare.
There was a depressing familiarity to much which preceded it, in a match England should have won much more easily.
Moeen Ali picked out deep square-leg with an aerial pull at Ravi Rampaul, and Luke Wright then missed three successive balls from Sunil Narine – the last of which, a doosra, bowled him off-stump for a duck.
Apparent danger man Narine had only four overs of his entitlement left, with England still in heartening shape. But they soon lurched to 89-6.
Michael Lumb was pinned lbw on the back foot by Nikita Miller, and Yorkshire’s Joe Root poked back a slower ball from Dwayne Bravo for a return catch.
Then Jos Buttler put the West Indies captain on a hat-trick when he gloved a short ball over his shoulder to the wicketkeeper, and Ben Stokes looped a bat-pad catch up to Denesh Ramdin too off Miller.
Bopara and Root’s Yorkshire clubmate Tim Bresnan hinted at revival until the latter was run out having pushed an attempted single to midwicket but set off on his own as the throw came in from Bravo.
It was therefore not until Broad came in, and rode his luck – dropped twice in three balls on one and three off Rampaul, at long leg and then slip – that England gradually became favourites again.
For the West Indies, Lendl Simmons had hit his second successive half-century and shared two 50 stands as he made 70. But after he was sixth out, the second of six wickets to fall for 26 runs, the West Indies faltered terminally.
England used eight different bowlers after Broad surprisingly put the hosts in again on a pitch used only two days previously.
None was deployed to better effect than Parry, the only one to bowl his full 10 overs, but it was England’s part-time spinners who put the West Indies in early trouble.
Root, operating exclusively round the wicket with the new ball, had Dwayne Smith chipping a catch straight into his most obvious trap – the man stationed at short midwicket.
Kirk Edwards edged Root to slip, where James Tredwell took a very good one-handed catch away to his right.
That was a second wicket in three balls, because at the other end opener Kieran Powell had chipped a return catch back to Moeen, and the hosts had stumbled to 30-3.
There was also bounce and sideways movement off the pitch for Broad, who nonetheless restricted himself to just two initial overs.
Darren Bravo never got out of first gear, apart from a six over long on off Tredwell, before he chopped the returning Broad on to his stumps.
But Dwayne Bravo was threateninga rearguard defiance, only to be given out controversially – much to the chagrin of the West Indies’ coach Ottis Gibson, judged by his reaction on the players’ balcony.
It appeared Buttler had fumbled a straightforward stumping chance down the leg side off Tredwell, but third umpire Marais Erasmus saw enough evidence to suggest the ball brushed the stumps before the wicketkeeper also broke them with his gloves.
In powerplay, Parry’s maiden international wicket was a big one.
It was skilfully achieved too, Simmons having just hit the slow left-armer for a huge six over midwicket and then trying a repeat dose next ball – a flatter delivery – but being caught well inside the rope. Ramdin played on to Bresnan, and then Parry had Darren Sammy pulling to the juggling Broad at midwicket and Narine authentically stumped.
Rampaul holed out off Tredwell to be last out with almost six overs unused – and for England, it turned out, a short match was a good one.
England captain Broad said: “Obviously I’m delighted to have won.
“We made it quite hard work for ourselves. The bowling was awesome and I think the way the guys learned from the other day, adjusted our plans to that wicket, was really impressive and to bowl West Indies out for under 160 we were obviously delighted.
“We knew the game wasn’t over because it’s been a hard wicket to score on throughout. We got off to a nice start and had a little wobble but it’s great to get over the line in the end.”
Broad says England did well to reach their runs target and hopes they can adjust to the new wicket in time for Wednesday’s series decider.
He praised Bopara, saying: “That’s what Ravi’s batting at seven for. We know he’s a strong finisher. We’ve had a couple of tough games this winter where we’ve not quite got over the line when we should have done and it’s great to see Ravi take that responsibility on.
“He’s such a talented guy, he can score all round the wicket and he stayed really calm out there.
“I didn’t have any doubt we would win, we just took it five runs at a time so we broke down the run chases as small as we possibly could and that made it easier for our minds to stay clear.”