Teenage leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed has shone for England in the Caribbean to such an extent that Adil Rashid’s absence has gone unnoticed, according to all-rounder Liam Livingstone.

Rashid is arguably the greatest white-ball bowler England have ever produced and, even though he has previously intimated he has many more years left, the double World Cup winner turns 36 in February.

He will be back for the T20 series against the Windies this month after being rested for the ODIs, but the hole left by the Yorkshireman has been filled seamlessly by Ahmed.

Ahmed is England’s youngest senior male player in all three formats and has furthered his blossoming reputation against the Windies by recording identical figures of 10-1-40-2 in two ODIs in Antigua.

Livingstone believes he is getting the rub of the 19-year-old’s reliability after taking three wickets with his own spin on Wednesday, where England’s win set up a series decider in Barbados on Saturday.

“The flexibility that we’ve got – Rehan has obviously come in and replaced Rash, we don’t even know that Rash isn’t here,” Livingstone said.

“Rehan’s been incredible for us, he’s an exceptional talent we’ve got coming through.

“What one of our strengths has been for years is the depth we have, not only in our batting but our bowling as well. As a spin department we’ll be happy with (the win).”

With Rashid out of the side and Moeen Ali likely to become a T20 specialist, Livingstone is now one of the senior players in the set-up and is keen to take more responsibility.

“Mo and Rash have been incredibly supportive and helpful of me bowling over the last couple of years,” the 30-year-old said.

“I guess it’s my turn to kind of take that over from them and maybe try and help Rehan and (fellow spinner Will) Jacks along the way.”

By his own estimation, Livingstone is currently a bowler who bats rather than the other way around as his runs have dried up since ending the English summer with a flourish against New Zealand.

Following a sparkling unbeaten 95 at the Ageas Bowl in September, the Cumbrian has a top-score of 28 in his last nine innings, while he averaged a paltry 10 in six knocks during England’s miserable World Cup.

Asked to pinpoint where he might be going wrong, Livingstone said: “If I had the reason I’d have probably changed it by now. I keep turning up to training, trying as hard as I can.

“I guess maybe just try to put a little bit less pressure on myself and go out and enjoy myself like I have done my whole career. It only takes one innings to change it around.

 

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“I’ve had it before and I’m sure when things do change around, I’ll look back on this time in my career as something that was probably a massive learning curve for me.”

Even if he is in a trough with what first brought him into England’s limited-overs sides, Livingstone is happy to provide an increasingly useful option with the ball.

“Being able to affect the game and getting key wickets for us at key times, is probably a little bit more satisfying than getting runs at certain times,” Livingstone added.

Sam Curran refused to dwell too much on his weekend drubbing and believes he demonstrated his strength of character by helping England level their ODI series against the West Indies.

Curran recorded the most expensive figures by an England bowler in ODIs on Sunday as the Windies drew first blood in the three-match series, finishing with nought for 98 after 9.5 bruising overs.

He returned to the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua on Wednesday and laid the groundwork for England’s six-wicket win, snaring top-order trio Keacy Carty, Brandon King and Shimron Hetmyer.

After a redemptive display as he regained his moniker of “making things happen”, Curran felt there was nothing to be gained from focusing on the negatives as he drew an emphatic line under the experience.

“Any time you bowl in certain scenarios, you know you’re going to have a tough day but I think if you dwell on those things too much, I feel like it would have probably affected me here,” he said.

“The big, big messaging from this group was ‘you’ve got to learn from those situations’ and I feel like I’m a very strong character in that regard. I don’t feel like that’s going to affect me at all.

“Hopefully I just bounce back stronger and learn from those days that are tough. There’s a little bit of relief, I guess, it was a tough day the other day but it was fantastic to get the win here.

“I feel like I haven’t played a huge amount over the last couple of months, like any player it’s a bit of rhythm and confidence and fingers crossed we can keep looking forwards.”

Curran was axed from the side after three anonymous displays at the World Cup, where he averaged 11.66 with the bat and took two wickets and leaked 140 runs in 17.2 overs.

Scrutiny increased on his long-term role in a new-look ODI set-up after being taken down by the Windies but Curran was named Jos Buttler’s vice-captain ahead of this series, emphasising the premium England place on the 25-year-old.

“Jos mentioned before the series if he’d like me to do it, that’s a great honour,” he said. “I do feel like more of a senior player in the side so that was a nice, proud moment.

“I definitely feel like I can play all three formats. People can have their opinions that I might not be able to but I feel like I’m a player who likes to back myself in all those tough moments.

“The message is that it’s a new side at the moment and it’s looking forward for the next couple of years.

“I think the energy around the group has been fantastic as well. It feels like a lot of energy and buzz around the group right now and I feel quite a big part of that, so I feel that’s a good thing.”

Curran’s three for 33 saw the Windies slip to 23 for four and while there were knocks of 68 from Shai Hope and 63 by Sherfane Rutherford, Liam Livingstone snuffed out any chance of a substantial total.

He dismissed Rutherford then Hope en route to figures of three for 39, with Gus Atkinson and Rehan Ahmed chipping in with a couple of wickets apiece as the Windies stumbled to 202 all out in 39.4 overs.

Will Jacks thumped four sixes in his sparkling 73 off 72 deliveries but his dismissal left England on 116 for four and the game on a knife-edge as the out-of-form Jos Buttler strode to the crease.

Without a fifty in his previous 13 ODIs and out for single figures in five of his last eight innings, the batter often touted as England’s greatest in the white-ball formats rediscovered his Midas touch.

He was twice beaten on the outside edge early on by leg-spinner Yannic Cariah but gradually found some fluency, thumping three sixes in his unbeaten 58 from 45 balls, sharing an unbroken 90 with Harry Brook.

It was left to Brook to hit the winning runs, finishing on 43 not out, as England won with 103 balls to spare to set up a series decider in Barbados on Saturday.

“We take a lot of happiness from our team-mates doing well, especially our captain, it’s really exciting,” Curran added. “Jos did what we know Jos can do.”

The Windies are now the side on the ropes ahead of this weekend but captain Hope said: “This is gone, we can’t control a thing that happened in this game or even the first game. We have to look ahead.”

Sam Curran redeemed himself after his weekend drubbing and England captain Jos Buttler rediscovered his Midas touch in his side’s series-levelling victory over the West Indies in Antigua.

Chasing 203, Will Jacks put England into the ascendancy with a sparkling 73 off 72 balls, including four sixes and six fours, but his downfall left the tourists wobbling on 116 for four in the 20th over.

Buttler, who had been averaging 14.1 since the start of a miserable World Cup for himself and his team, gradually bloomed and his unbeaten 58 off 45 deliveries – his first fifty in 14 ODIs – sealed England’s six-wicket win.

Harry Brook finished on 43 not out as England prevailed with 17.1 overs to spare although the architect of them ensuring a decider in Barbados on Saturday was Curran, who took three for 33 in seven overs.

Having recorded the most expensive figures by an England bowler in Sunday’s four-wicket defeat, leaking 98 runs in 9.5 overs, the left-arm seamer snared top-order trio Keacy Carty, Brandon King and Shimron Hetmyer.

After the Windies lurched to 23 for four, captain Shai Hope did his bit for nominative determinism, following up his match-winning ton a few days ago with a run-a-ball 68 and rookie Sherfane Rutherford chipped in with 63 before the pair were dismissed by Liam Livingstone, who took three for 39.

Curran was initially wayward again and belted for three fours by King but an opening stand that put on 104 on Sunday was snuffed out for 15 here after Gus Atkinson scythed through Alick Athanaze, with England’s review for caught behind showing a big snick on UltraEdge.

Curran’s fortunes shifted as angled deliveries took the edges of Carty and King to Zak Crawley before Hetmyer was rapped on the back pad by a fuller ball. The not-out verdict was overturned after Ben Duckett seemed to persuade Buttler into sending the decision upstairs.

Curran’s three wickets in eight balls left Hope and Rutherford, in his second ODI, with a mountainous rebuild. A 129-run stand followed as smoke from the barbecue vendors beyond the stands occasionally drifted across the ground, Hope settling with three straight driven fours in an Atkinson over.

Brydon Carse was taken the distance by Hope as the partnership grew, with both Windies batters going past fifties, Rutherford doing so with a mighty heave off the otherwise parsimonious Rehan Ahmed.

Having been held back until the 26th over, Livingstone broke the union when Rutherford drove loosely to Phil Salt in the ring while Yannic Cariah was castled through the gate by a floaty off-spinner.

Livingstone had the big fish with a precision piece of bowling, his leg-spinner leaving Hope in two minds, missing an indeterminate prod and his off-stump as a consequence.

Livingstone’s figures were dented by Romario Shepherd’s four fours in an over but the Windies subsided after he holed out to Rehan, whose figures of 10-1-40-2 were identical to what he recorded on Sunday.

Despite tricky conditions, Salt and Jacks were authoritative from the off, evoking the spirit of predecessors Jason Roy and first Alex Hales then Jonny Bairstow.

The pair rode their luck, edging wide of slip off Alzarri Joseph before Salt’s luck ran out on 21, bowled by Shepherd, after a 50-run stand.

The early battle between Joseph and Jacks was worth the entry fee alone. A rising snorter took Jacks’ glove and ballooned over Hope but the opener responded by hammering over backward square-leg and then repeated the trick off Shepherd. Jacks then smeared Oshane Thomas over backward point for a third six.

Crawley chopped on off Gudakesh Motie, who found the glove when Duckett went for a customary sweep before Brook edged agonisingly short of slip from his first ball as tension crept in.

Nerves may have been jangling when Jacks was lbw to one that kept low from Rutherford, bringing out Buttler, who had been dismissed for single figures in five of his previous eight innings.

He made a cagey start and was beaten twice on the outside edge by leg-spinner Cariah but he steadily grew in confidence alongside Brook.

A whipped four off Joseph was followed by a skip down the track and thump for back-to-back sixes off Cariah as Buttler started to find some rhythm.

The second of those monstrous blows was measured at 94 metres before another mighty mow off Thomas brought up a 43-ball half-century. Buttler took 16 off that Thomas over to level the scores.

It was left to Brook to get over the line and he did so by sweeping Motie behind square for four in the 33rd over.

Sam Curran rebounded from his drubbing at the weekend with three wickets as England skittled the West Indies for 202 in 39.4 overs in their must-win second ODI in Antigua.

Three days on from being belted for 98 in 9.5 overs – the most expensive ODI figures by an England bowler – Curran snared top-order trio Brandon King, Keacy Carty and Shimron Hetmyer.

Windies captain Shai Hope did his bit for nominative determinism after his side had slipped to 23 for four, following up his match-winning hundred in the series opener with a crucial 68 at the same venue.

Hope put on 129 in 138 balls with Sherfane Rutherford but Liam Livingstone took out both en route to figures of 6-0-39-3 to make sure Curran’s three for 33 were not wasted on a fresh strip.

The England all-rounders endured a poor World Cup, with Livingstone averaging 10 with the bat while Curran was dropped after three anonymous performances and his woes followed him to the Caribbean.

But England persisted with the pair and named an unchanged side from the one beaten by four wickets on Sunday, and were rewarded as they look to take this series to a decider in Barbados on Saturday.

Curran was driven for fours in each of his first three overs by King but Gus Atkinson made the breakthrough by jagging one back through Alick Athanaze. It appeared the ball missed everything en route to a diving Jos Buttler but England’s review was vindicated by a snick on UltraEdge.

A partnership that put on 104 at the weekend was snuffed out for 15 and it got better for England as Carty aimed a cross-batted shot at Curran only to top-edge through to Zak Crawley at slip.

The duo combined again as Curran gained revenge over King following an indeterminate push while the left-arm seamer had big-hitting left-hander Hetmyer lbw later in the over.

Buttler was persuaded to review by Ben Duckett after Hetmyer was pinned on the back pad by a fuller delivery and HawkEye predicted the ball would have clattered into leg-stump.

Having lost their first four wickets in 20 balls, the Windies relied on skipper Hope and Rutherford, in his second ODI, to rebuild. Hope drove fluently and took three straight fours off Atkinson in the over while his more junior partner was initially content to swim in his captain’s slipstream.

Will Jacks was given his first bowl of the series, having been curiously overlooked on Sunday, but conceded 27 in four innocuous overs while Brydon Carse was belted back over his head for six.

As the smoke from the barbecue vendors beyond the stands drifted across the ground, the partnership had extended well into three figures, with both batters going past 50 before Livingstone, held back until the 26th over, ended the union as Rutherford drove loosely to Phil Salt in the ring.

Yannic Cariah was then castled through the gate by a floaty off-spinner from Livingstone, who produced a precision piece of bowling to leave Hope in two minds as he was beaten through bat and pad.

Livingstone had his figures spoiled slightly as Romario Shepherd took four fours in five balls off the all-rounder before perishing in the deep for 19 after looking to take down Rehan Ahmed.

The Windies got past 200 but they had 10 overs unused as Atkinson bookended the innings, taking a return catch after Alzarri Joseph top-edged straight up in the air.

Andrew Flintoff will rejoin England’s backroom staff for their T20 series against West Indies later this month.

The former England captain has gradually returned to the public eye following a car crash while filming a stunt for BBC programme Top Gear 12 months ago, which left him with facial and rib injuries.

Coaxed by close friend and director of England men’s cricket Rob Key, Flintoff first linked up with the national side in an unpaid role for ODI series against New Zealand and Ireland before the World Cup.

Flintoff, whose performances with bat and ball in England’s 2005 Ashes triumph earned him cult hero status, has since been confirmed as head coach of Northern Superchargers men’s side in The Hundred.

He is not part of the England set-up for their ODI series against the Windies but it is understood he will fly out to Barbados later this week ahead of five T20s, the first of which is next Tuesday.

The 46-year-old, who will be paid for being a team mentor, has most recently been in Abu Dhabi for an England Lions winter training camp.

Reece Topley has also had a circuitous route to the West Indies, having convalesced from his latest injury blow with a trip to Los Angeles – where the people he encountered thought cricket involved horses or was the real-life version of Quidditch.

The introduction of Major League Cricket this year and the sport being included in the programme for the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028 represent big strides in the battle to crack the United States market.

But Topley discovered cricket still has some way to go to capture the American public’s imagination after a Stateside trip to recover from a broken finger which brought an early end to his World Cup.

“The amount of times I had to explain cricket to people – it ranged from people asking me ‘is it the sport with horses?’ Or even asking me if it was the sport that was in Harry Potter,” Topley said.

“It’s got a lot of things that Americans would love about cricket; all of their sports are centred around stats and cricket’s got a million stats.

“I feel like there should be that natural affiliation or selling point. I don’t know if it’s happened just yet but hopefully it’s on the horizon.”

Like Flintoff, Topley is not part of England’s ODI squad but travelled to Antigua early to train ahead of a planned comeback in the first T20, having started bowling again recently.

Having an intrepid outlook on life helps to explain his resilience from constant setbacks, from multiple stress fractures in his back to an ankle issue caused by stepping on a boundary sponge days before England’s triumphant T20 World Cup campaign in Australia and his latest injury in India.

“I don’t think anything is going to be achieved from sitting around and droning on about things or feeling sorry for yourself or looking for external validation,” the 29-year-old left-arm fast bowler said.

“It’s more a case of how do you move forward? The best step is always to have a level head, a drive to want to develop yourself because it is a short career in terms of your life and injuries may happen.

“Wrap my head around why did it happen at the last World Cup or the T20 one before that, but again it’s just not going to get anyone anywhere. It’s just best to just get your head down and work towards it.

“I’m happy doing that when I’m around cricket but then as soon as I’m off duty, it goes right to the back of my head again.

“I don’t think I’m all engulfed in cricket. I do have a viewpoint that I’m still in my 20s and this only comes around once. It’s important to experience certain things whenever you can.”

Danni Wyatt shone on her record 150th T20 international appearance as England began their first tour of India in four years with an impressive 38-run victory in Mumbai.

Wyatt hit 75 and Nat Sciver-Brunt made 77, with the pair sharing a match-winning stand in an imposing total of 197 for six.

Sophie Ecclestone ensured their work did not go to waste, rounding out the result with figures of three for 15 on her comeback appearance after four months out with a shoulder injury.

Opener Wyatt began the match by becoming the first English cricketer to reach the cap landmark but soon found herself in a scrap at the Wankhede Stadium, losing two batting partners in the first over of the day and before she had even got off the mark.

Renuka Singh was responsible for her side’s fine start, bowling Sophia Dunkley via a deflection off the bat and then knocking over Alice Capsey for a golden duck as she took out off stump with a beauty.

Wyatt and Sciver-Brunt were unfazed by the double setback and proceeded to put on 138 off the next 87 balls.

Wyatt helped herself to eight fours and two sixes, the first a slog sweep off Deepti Sharma and the second a big swing over long-off charging debutant Shreyanka Patil.

Sciver-Brunt added 13 boundaries of her own as the scoreboard raced along but Wyatt’s 47-ball attack ended with five overs left as she was stumped off newcomer Saika Ishaque.

Captain Heather Knight fell cheaply and Sciver-Brunt was caught behind in the 19th but Amy Jones ensured an action-packed finish by scoring 23 off nine balls at the death.

Sciver-Brunt was back in the thick of things early in the chase, coming on for the third over and forcing an error from the dangerous Smriti Mandhana, who was bowled middle stump.

Shafali Verma collected a handful of fours as she kept India in touch with the required rate but when Freya Kemp had Jemima Rodrigues caught behind in the final powerplay over it was another big boost to the tourists’ cause.

India were relying on a big stand between Verma and Harmanpreet Kaur, the latter briefly looking in rude health before Ecclestone’s arrival spelled the end. The left-arm spinner had not played since dislocating her shoulder in August but needed just one sighter before bowling Kaur via an inside edge.

With five overs left India still needed 74, leaving England to mop up a clinical win as Ecclestone added the battling Verma (52) and Kanika Ahuja to her haul.

Owen Farrell will make his first appearance since his decision to step away from Test rugby was announced when Saracens launch their Investec Champions Cup campaign on Saturday.

England captain Farrell will be unavailable for the Six Nations later this season after choosing to take a break from the international game to prioritise his and his family’s mental well-being.

He then missed Saracens’ Gallagher Premiership defeat against Northampton due to a knee problem.

But Saracens rugby director Mark McCall has confirmed the 32-year-old fly-half will face leading South African challengers the Bulls in Pretoria.

“He’s available and he is going to play this weekend,” McCall said. “He has trained fully over the last two days.

“He has enjoyed being with his team-mates, and it is a great opportunity for us all to spend a bit of time together away from the British winter.

“I don’t know how many European Cup games he has played – him and Alex Goode have probably played in more than anybody at the club.

“He is our captain, he is our leader, someone who is respected by everyone at the club. To have him on the field, of course, is an enormous benefit.

“Not just to have him on the field, but have him in the team-room, in the meetings… His contribution is so enormous and it is great to have him here with us.”

Three-time European champions Saracens have won the tournament more than any other English club, although they made a quarter-final exit last term to eventual winners La Rochelle.

And they will tackle a Bulls side currently third in the United Rugby Championship, having won five out of seven league fixtures this season.

McCall added: “We have been really impressed with what we have seen, especially in their last couple of home games. They are strong in all areas.

“Games don’t get much tougher in round one than coming to the Bulls, especially with the run of form they are on, but it is a challenge which usually brings the best out of the group we have got.

“We’ve had a good relationship with this competition for a very long period of time. It has felt really good on the training field from the moment we touched down here.”

Sophie Ecclestone will make her England comeback in Wednesday’s T20 series opener against India, with captain Heather Knight declaring the spinner “fit and firing” after four months out.

The world number one white-ball bowler needed surgery after dislocating her shoulder in August while taking part in the Hundred, missing the home series against Sri Lanka and the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia.

But she stepped up her recovery during England’s recent training camp in Oman and is ready to return to action at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.

“Sophie has missed a bit of cricket with the injury she had but she’s going to be fit and firing, so I’m looking forward to seeing her bowl,” Knight said.

“I don’t think bowling will be an issue, she’s been doing really well, but fielding there might be a bit of nervousness. I’ve had injuries myself where it’s about getting over trusting your body.

“I’m sure in the heat of battle Sophie will be fine, she’s tracking really well in training, diving around and things like that, but we’ll keep a close eye on her because she’s obviously a key player for us.”

England have not toured India since 2019 but Knight was among a handful of players who played in the country’s inaugural Women’s Premier League and believes it is the perfect place for her side to develop.

“It feels a long time since we’ve been to India, but now the WPL is a staple in the calendar there’s going to be a lot of cricket here for English players,” she said.

“I always feel I learn a lot about my game playing in Indian conditions. It really tests you as a cricketer in terms of skill level, how you deal with the noise, the heat and the other things that tend to happen in Indian tours.

“It’s a really good place to accelerate development and I’m excited to see how we cope with it.

“I’m really excited to see what sort of crowd we get too. Hopefully we get a few in after the WPL earlier in the year and we can silence the crowd, if there is one.”

England have one doubt for the series opener, with Charlie Dean set to sit out due to illness.

Fran Williams admitted being asked to be captain of the England team for their upcoming series against South Africa came “a bit out of the blue” as preparations continued for the opening game on Tuesday.

The Loughborough Lightning player will lead the Vitality Roses in their tri-series against the SPAR Proteas, which begins on December 5 in Manchester followed by two games on December 9 and 10 in Nottingham.

Working in a wider leadership group alongside Eleanor Cardwell and Imogen Allison, Williams will lead the team for the first time and revealed that while receiving the captaincy was unexpected, she was looking forward to the opportunity.

“(It was) a bit out of the blue, I was having a catch-up meeting with Jess (Thirlby) our head coach about something completely separate and not relevant to leadership roles and captaincy,” Williams told the PA news agency.

“Then at the end of the meeting she asked if I’d want to be captain, if I’d take on that honour and I said ‘I don’t have to think about it, I’d love to do that opportunity’.

“Then I walked away and thought ‘gosh that’s actually a big deal, maybe I should have thought about this a bit more!’.

“There’s nothing better than being able to represent the team and it’s just such an easy role to take on when you’ve got a group and a squad like we have who are so willing to get stuck in, always seeing the positives, want to jump on board and get involved in as much as possible.”

December’s fixtures will be England’s first games back on home turf since winning silver at the Netball World Cup over the summer, where they fell to a 61-45 defeat against Australia in the final.

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Williams played a pivotal part in the tournament, providing a vital interception in the dying minutes of their semi-final against reigning champions New Zealand and reflected on a “history-making moment” reaching the final.

“I think at the time and in that moment of the final it was obviously devastating,” Williams said.

“To lose against Australia particularly when – bearing in mind it was a tight game – we’d beaten them only a few days before.

“However, when I look back now, I have nothing but pride for the way we performed this summer as a Roses squad. Not just players but all the staff and the journey we’d been on to reaching that historic final and getting our first-ever silver medal at a Netball World Cup, it was still a history-making moment.

“Not just the final result but also the memories I have with that team. Not just in the prep camp before, but the years before leading to us being able to do that is what I’ll take away from the experience the most.

“It’s so exciting to see where we could end up in four years’ time. Now I’ve got that springboard and motivation from being that close in the summer to really want to go for it those next four years.”

There are plenty of new faces in the Roses squad for the South Africa series with five players preparing to make their home international debuts and Williams was looking forward to the “new opportunities ahead”.

She added: “We’ve got a fresh-looking squad, new opportunities lying ahead and whilst it’s so important we carry those stories and lessons learned from the summer and make sure we’re all on the same page and everyone – even if you weren’t there – gets to learn from what worked well in the summer to get to that point and what we could do better to get us over the line in that final in four years’ time.

“There’s also the opportunity to create our own memories and our own history with a new squad.”

Former England captain and cricket pundit Bob Willis died on December 4, 2019 at the age of 70.

The pace bowler, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer three years previously, played 90 Tests for England and had been a popular figure in broadcasting following his retirement in 1984.

Willis’ family said in a statement: “We are heartbroken to lose our beloved Bob, who was an incredible husband, father, brother and grandfather. He made a huge impact on everybody he knew and we will miss him terribly.”

Willis’ most famous moment as a player came in the 1981 Ashes series as his eight for 43 fired England to a remarkable win in the third Test at Headingley.

He is England’s fourth highest Test wicket-taker of all time with 325 wickets.

The England and Wales Cricket Board said in a statement that cricket had lost “a dear friend”.

“The ECB is deeply saddened to say farewell to Bob Willis, a legend of English cricket,” the statement read.

“He will always be remembered for his outstanding cricket career. In later years as a broadcaster Bob was a perceptive and respected voice at the microphone. We are forever thankful for everything he has done for the game.

“Everyone at the ECB sends sincere condolences to his family. Cricket has lost a dear friend.”

Willis’ former team-mate Paul Allott told Sky Sports News: “I was there when Bob passed away with Lauren, his wife, and daughter in Wimbledon. It was a peaceful passing but it was obviously a hugely emotional moment.

“We’ve known each other for more than 40 years. Beneath that quite stern exterior that he portrayed on Sky Sports there was a heart of gold.

“He was an extremely kind and gentle individual and we became the very best of friends.”

The Bob Willis Trophy was contested in 2020 and 2021 in his honour and is now presented to England’s player of the year at the Cricket Writers’ Club awards.

Jos Buttler admitted his run of low scores has “gone on for a lot longer than I would have liked” after the England captain’s World Cup hangover continued in the Caribbean.

Buttler was out for three off 13 balls against the West Indies in Antigua, his fifth single-figure score in eight ODIs, while he has now gone 13 innings in this format without a fifty.

Number 11 batter Gus Atkinson was the only other England batter who did not reach double figures in the first of three ODIs, where the tourists set a target of 326 in their first match since the World Cup.

Speaking after the Windies overhauled England’s total with four wickets and seven balls to spare in an exciting crescendo, Buttler remains optimistic he can turn his fortunes around quickly.

“I feel good, I just keep managing to get out,” he said. “It’s disappointing, frustrating and gone on for a lot longer than I would have liked but there’s only myself who can score my own runs.

“I’m not going to score any if I hide away and don’t get out there. You keep working hard, you keep putting the effort in and trust that it will turn around.”

Buttler is widely-regarded as one of England’s greatest white-ball batters ever and his lean patch has coincided with his side’s listing fortunes – this was their seventh loss in 10 ODIs.

England are at the start of a new cycle and there were positives as openers Will Jacks and Phil Salt, neither of whom were selected for the World Cup group stage exit, put on 77 in 8.2 overs.

Harry Brook top-scored with 71 off 72 balls, Sam Curran and Brydon Carse put on 66 in 38 balls to lift England to 325 all out – the highest total in ODIs at this venue, a record that lasted a few hours.

Rehan Ahmed was the pick of the attack with two for 40 but Curran recorded the most expensive figures by an England bowler in an ODI as he leaked an eye-watering 98 in 9.5 overs.

Curran and Carse were unable to stop an onslaught from Windies captain Shai Hope and Romario Shepherd, who put on 89 in 51 balls to turn the tide after the hosts had slipped to 213 for five.

Hope clattered three sixes in four balls off Curran to end proceedings, finishing on 109 not out, while Shepherd crunched seven boundaries in his 28-ball stay before being dismissed two shy of fifty.

“There’s some young guys in that team who have not played loads and loads of one-day cricket, they’ll learn a lot from this,” Buttler said of a side that had five individuals with fewer than 10 ODI appearances.

“A lot of stuff we did really, really well; not well enough to win the game in the end but guys will be better for the experience, learn plenty from that and come back for the next one.

“I thought we played really well, I thought the two guys at the top set the tone really well. We were positive and aggressive and put the pressure on the West Indies at the start.

“We just didn’t quite close it out. There’s no need to panic, we’ve done a lot of things really well, there’s guys who have gained experience from this and we look forward to the next one (on Wednesday).”

The Windies are also at the outset of a new era, having failed to qualify for the World Cup, but it was Hope, a champion performer who reached 5,000 ODI runs in his knock, who was their star on Sunday.

“This definitely gives us confidence for the rest of the series,” Hope said. “We’ve got to make sure the guys believe they can win in any situation. It’s great we can start this way.”

Shai Hope and Romario Shepherd powered the West Indies to a four-wicket victory in the thrilling series-opening ODI in Antigua on Sunday.

Following a meek World Cup, England are at the start of a new era and they amassed 325 all out but Jos Buttler made his fifth single-figure score in eight ODIs after being dismissed for three off 13 balls.

It looked to be enough as the Windies lurched to 213 for five in the 39th over but Hope’s unbeaten 109 off 83 balls and a punchy 48 from 28 deliveries from Shepherd underpinned a remarkable home triumph.

Hope’s three sixes in four balls off the expensive Sam Curran, who leaked 98 in 9.5 wicketless overs, helped the Windies get over the line with seven balls to spare as they drew first blood in the series.

There were positives for an England side who had six individuals in their XI who were out in India as Harry Brook top-scored with 71 off 72 balls while Phil Salt amassed 45 off 28 balls while Curran (38 off 26) and Brydon Carse (31no off 21) put on a lifted England beyond 300 after a middle-order wobble.

Rehan Ahmed was the pick of England’s attack but they were unable to pin down a side who failed to qualify for the World Cup, while Buttler’s form is an increasing concern and his run of innings with an ODI fifty stretched to 13 innings.

England started well as Salt crunched eight boundaries off fast bowlers Alzarri Joseph and Shepherd but a turbocharged innings ended in tame fashion, vindicating the decision to introduce Gudakesh Motie’s left-arm spin after six overs.

Backing away to leg, Salt’s cut looped to the cover fielder to end a 77-run stand, while Will Jacks was gone for 26 in the next over after Joseph extracted extra bounce and found the outside edge.

Zak Crawley consolidated, initially alongside Test opening partner Ben Duckett then Brook, all of whom were watchful early on as the pitch started to become more unpredictable. Put down twice in the 30s, Crawley got to 48 when he set off for a single only to be left high and dry by Brook and run out.

Brook took 12 singles from his first 18 deliveries before reverse sweeping to the boundary while he accelerated after Buttler’s downfall with dismissive sixes off Shepherd and leg-spinner Yannic Cariah.

Liam Livingstone briefly got in on the act with back-to-back sixes in a Cariah over yielding 23 but the all-rounder and Brook were out in successive Shepherd overs. Livingstone was lbw to a delivery that kept low and Brook slapped a pace-off ball to mid-off, having added one run after being dropped on 70.

At 239 for seven with nine overs left, England were grateful for their lower order adding 86, underpinned by Curran and Carse putting on a belligerent 66 in just 38 balls. The pair each cleared the rope twice while Ahmed chipped in with a maximum as England’s innings ended with a flourish.

The hosts had only chased down 300-plus totals three times in ODIs but their attempt to overhaul the highest 50-over total at this venue began brightly courtesy of the highly rated Alick Athanaze.

The left-hander, leading run-scorer at the 2018 Under-19 World Cup, feasted on Curran’s waywardness, hooking a six in the first over before ending the powerplay with a mighty mow off Gus Atkinson.

Brandon King was less fluent but put on 104 alongside Athanaze before Ahmed prised the pair apart. Athanaze missed a sweep at a googly and was given leg-before for 66 while Livingstone breached the defences of King on 35 eight balls later as England’s spinners gave them a foothold.

Keacy Carty made just 16 in a 39-ball stay before he was trapped in front by Carse’s grubber and the run-rate was steadily escalating when Shimron Hetmyer walked to the crease.

Both Hetmyer and ODI debutant Sherfane Rutherford were caught on the boundary off Atkinson and Ahmed respectively as the Windies went into the last 10 overs requiring 106 runs for victory.

Hope was the wicket England prized most, though. A standout ODI talent, he went effortlessly through the gears, rotating the strike well while he also thumped the only six Ahmed conceded in his 10-1-40-2.

He went past 5,000 ODI runs before, with 90 needed off 48 balls, Shepherd went on the attack to Curran, muscling two leg-side sixes in an over containing 19 runs.

The 45th over, also bowled by Curran, went for 15 and the 47th by Carse was taken for 17 as Hope and Shepherd turned the tide. While Atkinson took out Shepherd lbw, Curran was powerless to stop Hope repeatedly hammering him over the rope as the Windies claimed victory.

Harry Brook underscored England’s bid for regeneration with an important 71 but captain Jos Buttler’s lean run of form continued in their first ODI against the West Indies in Antigua.

A chastening World Cup campaign has ushered in a new era for England although it was largely the contributions of individuals out in India who had the biggest impact in the first of three ODIs.

Three weeks on from their final match in the subcontinent, Brook top-scored in England’s 325 all out, with all of their batters reaching double figures except for Buttler and number 11 Gus Atkinson.

Buttler had a torrid World Cup, averaging 15.33 without passing 50 once, and never got going in Antigua before being dismissed for three off 13 balls after gloving a reverse sweep to the lone slip.

Sam Curran and Brydon Carse put on 66 in 38 balls down the order to get England over 300 after they had slipped to 239 for seven against a new-look Windies side who failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Phil Salt gave England a turbocharged start with a boundary-laden 45 in 28 balls after winning the toss under sunny skies while the tourists went on to record the highest ODI score at this ground, helped by occasionally shoddy fielding from their opponents.

Salt wasted no time in settling, crashing five fours and three meaty leg-side sixes off fast bowlers Alzarri Joseph and Romario Shepherd, forcing Windies captain Shai Hope to turn to spin after six overs.

The change worked as Salt ended an electric innings in tame fashion. He has struggled against left-arm spin in the past and he was snared by Gudakesh Motie after backing away to leg and lofting to cover.

Will Jacks had been in Salt’s slipstream in a 77-run stand but still dispatched a 96-metre six arcing over cover, aided slightly by a breeze blowing across the ground, before nicking off as England’s openers departed in quick succession.

Conditions seemed to grow trickier, with the ball occasionally keeping low, as Test openers Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett attempted to build on England’s rapid start.

Duckett’s customary sweeps, both orthodox and reverse, came to the fore but he had his leg-stump pegged back by one that skidded on from leg-spinner Yannic Cariah, who should have had Crawley on 30 but a top-edged which looped gently to long-on was spilled by Motie, possibly unsighted by the sunshine.

Crawley was run out for 48 after setting off for a single, only to see Brook had not budged, allowing Hope to whip off the bails following Alick Athanaze’s throw from point.

Brook was initially quiet, nudging and nurdling 12 singles from his first 18 balls before reverse sweeping Motie for his first four. His second boundary was the result of more Windies misfielding as Keacy Carty got in a tangle and the ball sailed underneath his legs.

He kept England ticking over then accelerated after Buttler’s departure, clubbing Shepherd then Cariah for sixes. Cariah was also taken the distance twice by Livingstone in an over costing 23 but the England all-rounder fell for 17, trapped lbw by a grubber from Shepherd.

Brook was dropped at point on 70 but added just another run before being deceived by Shepherd’s pace-off delivery and thumping to mid-off.

At 239 for seven, England’s lower order had work to do but Sam Curran, who had a fringe role at the World Cup, and Carse, an unused squad member, helped the tourists finish with a flourish.

Both lower order batters cleared the rope twice to carry England beyond 300 before Curran was run out on 38. Carse was unbeaten on 31.

Gareth Southgate says England must have the “humility to start again” as the Euro 2020 runners-up look to go one glorious step further in Germany next summer.

Impressive progress during the former defender’s seven-year reign means the side ranked third in the world are among the favourites to lift the European Championship trophy in Berlin.

England found out their Euro 2024 group and potential pathways to the July 14 finale in Saturday evening’s draw at the stunning Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg.

Southgate’s top seeds avoided a so-called group of death after Slovenia and Serbia followed Euro 2020 semi-final opponents Denmark, but there is little chance of complacency seeping in.

“Well, certainly when Denmark came out, and you could still have Denmark, Croatia, Italy or something like that, then you’re wondering where it’s heading,” the England manager said.

“But then, of course, you have to be very careful not to underestimate the opponents you have.

“I’ve been fortunate as a coach and a player to have been to eight tournaments.

“I’ve seen a lot of teams that were fancied and well ranked going into tournaments not deliver and not get out of their group.

“So, we have to have the humility to start again, as well as we’ve been playing and as well as we’ve built over a long period of time.

“We’ve been ranked in the top five in the world for five years, so we’ve had consistency of performances and results.

“But a new tournament means a new challenge and the first objective is to get out of the group again.”

England have progressed from every group during Southgate’s tenure, going onto reach at least the quarter-finals at all three major tournaments.

There were signs of progress before they lost at that stage to eventual finalists France at the 2022 World Cup, having gone within penalties of becoming continental champions in the last edition of the Euros.

Put to Southgate that opposing teams and players have praised his work and the England team, he said with a smile: “Yeah, well, I take that with a pinch of salt. Managers are good at that… because I do it myself!

“It’s clear the team are heading in a good direction. The rankings came out this week and we were third in the world, so I think our performances across the calendar year have been good.

“Eight wins, two draws, we won the toughest qualifying group and we won it comfortably, but that’s history and you have to go again in the next calendar year.

“It’s nice when we travel around Europe I have to say do get well received and we do get a lot of credit, which is lovely.

“But of course we know there’s still a step we want to take and that’s what drives us.”

This is shaping up to be Southgate’s final tournament in charge, with his contract at the Football Association expiring after next year’s finals.

The 53-year-old had considered quitting after Qatar this time last year but decided to give it another go at winning a trophy he and the nation craves.

“Probably the biggest pressure is what you put on yourself because of what you want to achieve and what you what you want to bring for your country, really,” Southgate said.

“But it’s no more or less than when I started in the job seven years ago.

“We now have a lot more experience, a lot more experience of big matches, a lot more experience of navigating tournaments, so we’re looking forward to it.

“We’re hoping that we can give our fans, our public some more great nights like I think we have in the last three tournaments.”

This summer will go down in history if England flourish in Germany, where fans will make the journey to a tournament en masse for the first time during his time in charge.

“The most recent tournaments have been a little bit different,” Southgate added.

“It wasn’t so easy to get to Russia or Qatar, and in the Euros we were coming out of Covid and was very different as well.

“This will be a little bit more like the tournaments when I was playing and when I was growing up and, yeah, we’re looking forward to that.

“We’re pleased that our fans are excited because that’s what it’s all about.”

With Saturday's Euro 2024 group-stage draw done and dusted, Europe's elite know what awaits them in Germany next year and all eyes will turn to the opening game in Munich on June 14.

Steve Clarke's Scotland will be Germany's first opponents as they kickstart their bid to become the first sole host nation to win the tournament since France in 1984.

Elsewhere, England can be content with a somewhat kind draw as Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane and company look to bring football home, while Group B looks set to earn the title of 'group of death', with defending champions Italy pitted against Spain and Croatia.

As fans across the continent begin plotting their nations' routes to the final, to be held in Berlin on July 14, Stats Perform runs through the best facts and figures from each of the six groups. 

Group A: Germany, Hungary, Scotland, Switzerland

Germany have endured a troubled build-up to their home tournament, with Julian Nagelsmann parachuted in after the dismissal of Hansi Flick in September. The last Germany boss to win a major tournament at his first attempt was Jupp Derwall, who led the team (then West Germany) to Euro 1980 glory.

They will face a familiar foe in the form of Switzerland, who they will meet for the 54th time in senior internationals – no other team has faced Germany as often, but the teams have never met at the Euros before.

Germany's matchday one opponents will be Scotland, who will be making their fourth appearance at the Euros after also qualifying in 1992, 1996 and 2020. They have never reached the knockout stages. 

However, they may fancy their chances of edging out Switzerland and Hungary in what could be a battle for second place this time around. Hungary took bronze when they first appeared at the Euros in 1964, but they have only won one of their nine games at the tournament since then (four draws, four defeats), beating Austria in the 2016 group stage.

Group B: Spain, Albania, Croatia, Italy)

All eyes will be on Group B ahead of the tournament, with three-time winners Spain drawn alongside defending champions Italy – who they beat in the 2012 final – and 2022 World Cup bronze medallists Croatia. 

Excluding penalty shoot-outs, La Roja have only lost two of their last 22 matches at the Euros, winning 13 and drawing seven. The last two teams to beat them? Croatia and Italy in 2016.

Spain are the only nation to win back-to-back editions of the Euros, doing so in 2008 and 2012. Luciano Spalletti's Italy are looking to replicate that feat, having inched past Ukraine to claim second place in their qualification group.

The Azzurri have now qualified for eight successive editions of the tournament, though this is the first time they have reached a major competition while losing two or more games in their qualifying group, having been beaten home and away by England.

While Spain and Italy will feel unfortunate to have landed in such a difficult group, the omens are good for teams that face Croatia when it matters. They have lost to the eventual winners at four of their last six major tournaments, being beaten by Spain at Euro 2012, Portugal at Euro 2016, France at the 2018 World Cup, and Argentina in Qatar last year.

GROUP C: England, Denmark, Slovenia, Serbia

Gareth Southgate may be relieved to have avoided some of the heavy hitters with England landing in Group C, where they will start against Serbia on June 16 before taking on Denmark and Slovenia.

England's rematch with Denmark – who they beat in the Euro 2020 semi-finals – could be decisive in the battle for top spot. The Three Lions are unbeaten in all three of their meetings with Denmark at Euros/World Cups (two wins, one draw), with Switzerland the only team they have faced as often at tournaments without ever losing.

With Kane thriving at Bayern Munich and Bellingham a former star at Borussia Dortmund, two of the Three Lions' star players are no strangers to German turf.

 

They also have an excellent record against Slovenia, winning five and drawing one of the teams' six all-time meetings. The only one of those games to take place at a major tournament came at the 2010 World Cup, when Jermain Defoe hit the winner in a 1-0 victory for Fabio Capello's team.

Serbia, meanwhile, will be featuring at the Euros for the first time as an independent nation. They competed as Yugoslavia or FR Yugoslavia in five editions, finishing as runners-up in 1960 and 1968.

Group D: France, Austria, Netherlands, play-off winner A

With Kylian Mbappe spearheading their star-studded team, France head to the Euros among the favourites. Boss Didier Deschamps captained his country to glory at Euro 2000, and he could become the first person to win the competition as both a player and a head coach.

Les Bleus, however, face a tough set of opponents in Group D, none more so than the Netherlands.

France have faced the Oranje more often at the Euros without ever winning than they have any other side, losing their last two such matches against them at the 2000 and 2008 tournaments.

Ronald Koeman might be pleased to see his team drawn alongside Austria, with the Netherlands winning their last seven matches against them, averaging 2.9 goals per game throughout that run (20 in total).

The final team in Group D will be decided via the play-offs in March, with Wales, Finland, Poland and Estonia vying for a ticket to Germany. France have met any of those nations at the Euros.

Group E: Belgium, Romania, Slovakia, play-off winner B

Belgium headline Group E, with Domenico Tedesco at the wheel as the last members of the Red Devils' so-called golden generation look to finally deliver on their promise.

Since losing to West Germany in the final of Euro 1980, Belgium have never reached the semi-finals of the tournament, being knocked out in the last eight at each of the last two editions – versus Wales in 2016 and Italy at Euro 2020.

They will be content with a kind-looking draw, with Romania the team drawn into Group E from pot two. Their win ratio of just six per cent at the Euros is the worst of any nation to qualify for more than one edition, winning just once in 16 games at the tournament. 

Slovakia, meanwhile, have only won two of their seven games at Euro tournaments (one draw, four defeats), also failing to score in four of their last five games.

Ukraine, Israel, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland will battle for the final spot in this group in March.

GROUP F: Portugal, Turkiye, Czech Republic, play-off winner C

Group F contains 2016 winners Portugal, the only team to reach the knockout stages of the last seven editions of the Euros, a run that stretches back to the 1996 tournament. In fact, they have always progressed from the group stages in their eight previous appearances at the Euros.

Cristiano Ronaldo seems set to be sticking around for this tournament. He will be 39 by the time it rolls around. The Al Nassr attacker holds the records for most games (25) and most goals (14) at the Euros, has also managed a joint-record six assists (since records began in 1972).

Ronaldo's 20 total goal involvements at the Euros are twice as many as any other player since assist records began, with Michel Platini second on 10 (nine goals, one assist).

Roberto Martinez's team open their campaign against the Czech Republic, who are featuring at an eighth successive edition of the Euros (including appearances as Czechoslovakia). Only Germany (14) and France (nine) are currently on longer runs of consecutive appearances.

One of Georgia, Greece, Kazakhstan and Luxembourg will join Turkiye in rounding out the group. They are looking to improve on their dismal showing at Euro 2020, and have qualified for three successive editions of the Euros for the first time. However, they have lost six of their last seven matches at the tournament (one win).

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