Joe Root’s maiden one-day international hundred helped England edge a nervy first series victory for almost seven months, against West Indies.
A fifth-wicket stand of 175 between Yorkshire’s Root (107) and Jos Buttler (99), England’s ODI highest in the Caribbean, carried the tourists to 303-6.
But after a round-the-world odyssey which has brought mostly hassle since they won the 2013 Ashes in Durham last August, England’s mettle was tested one last time by Denesh Ramdin’s own brilliant first ODI hundred.
Dropped on five by James Tredwell at slip and 83 by captain Stuart Broad, he crunched nine fours in his 99-ball century – completed with his third six high over midwicket off Stephen Parry.
With 14 deliveries left, Ramdin (128) was looking increasingly likely to mug England after all.
But Root’s Yorkshire team-mate Tim Bresnan (3-45) kept his cool to clean bowl the wicketkeeper-batsman and end the match with a wonderfully skilful inswinging yorker as the West Indies were bowled out for 278 – handing England a 25-run success.
Root had earlier taken the first wicket in the hosts’ chase, before leaving the field to nurse a thumb injury sustained with just a single to his name when he was hit by a delivery from Ravi Rampaul.
The young Yorkshireman stood firm, despite at times appearing in significant discomfort, to anchor England expertly at No 4.
His 112-ball century was full of habitual deflections, especially fine on the off side, and what he lacked in power he made up for by rarely missing a scoring opportunity.
Buttler was characterisically more explosive, hitting seven fours and four sixes from 84 balls.
Both benefited from the DRS process.
West Indies were convinced Sunil Narine had Root leg before on 23 but discovered, via ‘Hawkeye’, that the ball would have bounced over.
Then Buttler overturned a caught-behind decision on 22 off Marlon Samuels.
Openers Moeen Ali (55) and Michael Lumb made a brisk start, only for Dwayne Bravo (3-60) to interrupt England’s progress after they had been put into bat.
Lumb and then Ben Stokes both contributed to their own downfall.
The opener steered a cut into the hands of point, and Stokes fell for a golden duck when he played with neither a straight nor cross-bat as he mistimed a ball off his hip.
Pain-killers appeared to work for Root while he and Moeen were sharing a stand of 68, but he soon began to show more distress.
By then, Moeen had reached his near run-a-ball first international 50 with a slog-sweep for six off Samuels – only to chip a catch back to Nikita Miller soon afterwards.
Eoin Morgan, fit after knee trouble for the first time in the series, was not attuned to Narine’s variations and was bowled on the back foot.
But after two more wickets had therefore fallen for one run, Root and Buttler simply took over.
Both eventually holed out in pursuit of the 94 runs which came in the last 10 overs, Buttler cruelly one short of what would also have been his first international hundred. He could soon be cheered, however, as England’s bowlers readily made inroads.
West Indies were spooked by early spin in the previous two matches on this same strip.
Despite being used for a third time in six days, it was much more conducive to fluent strokeplay than previously, and the West Iindies were in no mood to fall into the trap of again being too tentative.
After Dwayne Smith had twice swept Root for boundaries, Kieran Powell was bowled off-stump trying the same shot to the last ball of the first over.
Smith then fell to the very next delivery, Stuart Broad’s first, when he pulled straight to deep square-leg.
West Indies stayed on the attack but soon lost two more quick wickets, Darren Bravo very well caught at midwicket by Ravi Bopara off Moeen and Lendl Simmons edging a pull at Broad on to his stumps.
Samuels went caught-behind, apparently astounded DRS did not reprieve him against Parry – but it was when England broke Ramdin’s seventh-wicket stand of 71 with Darren Sammy, the latter caught at deep-square off Bresnan, that Ramdin was left to do it on his own – and he very nearly did.
For Broad, the 2-1 verdict was an immediate success in his first ODI series as captain.
On the other hand, he has been an ever-present during England’s costly global labours since they last had much to smile about.