Salt’s stunning century confirms T20 series as tough, six-shooting gunfight | England in West Indies 2023

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Three games in, and there has been something of the Wild West (Indies) about this series. Matches have been chaotic and entertaining, characterised by reputations being made and ruined, by those with a wayward aim being punished in duel after duel, by people being trigger-happy with their six‑shooters, by the sight of innocent bystanders ducking for cover. And as for England, well, there’s a new sheriff in town.

Two and a half years after his international debut, after 19 ODIs and precisely as many Twenty20s, three months after he was left out of a World Cup squad and two after the England and Wales Cricket Board announced a fresh list of centrally contracted players without him on it, Phil Salt has established himself as a key member of this white-ball side.

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.

“There’s no more special feeling than walking off a ground in an England shirt, winning the game,” he said. “Jos [Buttler] said that in the dressing room after the last game, and we were looking for someone to put their hands up and do that in this series.” Consider his hand raised.

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.

“I was trying to stay as cool as possible and relaxed – as soon as I get tensed up that’s when I lose my shape and I don’t quite hit the ball as cleanly,” Brook said of that innings, in which he displayed a preternatural level-headedness. “It’s probably better in that situation, to be honest. You’ve got so much clarity chasing a big score like that.”

Phil Salt hits a boundary as Nicholas Pooran looks on in Grenada.
Phil Salt hits a boundary as Nicholas Pooran looks on in Grenada. Photograph: Randy Brooks/AFP/Getty Images

England had started this series dismally, and with two games to come they may yet end it that way. The performance on Saturday has only temporarily dispelled the questions over the leadership of Buttler and Matthew Mott that were forced to the surface by their run of poor performances at the World Cup and the continuation of that form here. Their bowling unit looks anything but world-beating, though in recent years few touring bowlers have left this place with reputations enhanced. But the fact that it was Salt and Brook, two members of a fresh generation, who turned the game on Saturday has helped to shift the focus back towards a brighter future.

This was always going to be a difficult tour for England, against a side with a lowly reputation because of their poor performances at the past two T20 World Cups and their failure to qualify for this year’s 50‑over version. But West Indies are a wildly entertaining side packed with batting power, and are perfectly honed for these conditions. They thrashed Australia in a T20 series here in 2021, beat England in 2022 and dispatched India this year, and their ability to repeatedly clear the rope makes them a brutal challenge. When asked on Saturday whether he would expect the T20 World Cup next year to become an avalanche of sixes, Brook said: “Against these boys it’s going to be.”

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When the World Cup was last played in the West Indies in 2010, 278 sixes were scored, in 27 matches. At the previous tournament, held in England less than a year earlier, there was 166. Fast forward 13 years, and England and West Indies have hit 75, or 27% of that number, in only three games. This ranks eighth on the list of the most six-heavy bilateral series of all time, with two matches still to play.

Four of the top eight series on that list have been played in the West Indies since 2021. There is something in the air here, some kind of intoxicating cocktail of conditions. Going into the last two games, perhaps it would be wisest to park those questions and just enjoy the ride.

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