West Indies are worthy winners of a worthy contest
Victory boosts confidence of the tourists
Cricket’s itself again …. if not quite the same as before. The first Test of the covoid summer at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton had everything, except spectators and the attending press. Otherwise it was a match to restore the game to its true place in our affections. It was an occasion with several heroes and no villain. Even the rain, drizzle and indifferent light which restricted the first day and impeded batting on the second set the bounds in which this adventure was played out. West Indies’ victory by 4 wickets was well-deserved as would have been a success for their opponents if they had managed to win by taking the last session of the five days play. That no six was scored, and no century made, refutes the spurious argument that there cannot be excitement without knock-out rules and restrictions.
The win has done much for West Indies confidence. It is only their second victory in England in the last twenty years and showed that they were able to roll with the turns of fortune, and a triumph for captain Jason Holder. I have neither read nor heard any criticism of the triumph of this four-pronged pace attack which measures in application and endeavour, if not in outright hostility, its predecessors of yesteryear. The success by a team that is recognisably weak in batting was achieved without two of their front-line batsmen, Hetmyer and Bravo, who declined to tour. They will need to show different talents now that England will “come at them” in the remaining two matches, but I doubt if they will be found wanting.
Stokes gambles on the pitch
Ben Stokes, standing in as captain for Joe Root, had a difficult choice on winning the toss in inclement conditions which favoured bowling. He gambled on the pitch deteriorating in the later stages and batted. The home batsmen were immediately put under the hammer by Shannon Gabriel (4-62), the powerful long-serving Trinidadian who, after being omitted initially, had been added to the touring party after having proved his fitness. After Dominic Sibley had been dismissed before a run was scored, England hobbled through an early closure into the second day. At 87-5 the hosts were in danger of humiliation until Stokes (43) found support from wicket-keeper Jos Buttler (35) and Dominic Bess (31 n.o.)
Whereas the first part of the innings had belonged to Gabriel, the rest belonged to Holder (6-42). The tall Barbadian was truly economical (2.10) in returning his best Test innings figures. Although he failed to take a wicket Kemar Roach (2.15) kept the batsmen under similar pressure. The 204 runs total from 67.3 overs would not have been as much as Stokes would have hoped when he opted for first innings, but his own fast bowling attack, from which Stuart Broad had been omitted, was quite capable of restoring the balance. The weather, now, from the third day turned more favourable for batting. Yet the West Indians knew that they would have to secure a substantial lead to compensate from having to bat last.
The advantage lay with West Indies – but only just
Kraigg Brathwaite (65), who with Shai Hope, had set-up the historic victory at Leeds three years ago, provided the firm start that was required, and expected, before he was third man out at 140. Jimmy Anderson (3-62) prevented the early batting from seizing the initiative, but the middle-order based around Shamarrh Brooks (39), a comparative newcomer who showed much promise, and all-rounder Roston Chase (47) took the tourists into the lead with only five wickets down. Stokes (4-49) would not be denied and in spite of sterling defiance by wicket-keeper Shane Dowrich (61) the margin between the teams was only 114 at the half-way point. The advantage lay with West Indies, but only just. Much would depend on England’s early batting, and it stood up well to the test.
This time openers Sibley (50) and Rory Burns (42) got them away to a good start and the deficit was erased for only two wickets. With Zak Crawley (76) in good form and Stokes (46) batting well again England seemed to be on their way to establishing an impregnable position. Nevertheless the bowlers did not let up so that when Gabriel (5-75) came back powerfully against the lower-order the home team needed a few good hits from Jofra Archer (23) to get them to 313. West Indies, facing a target of only 200 runs, seemed to have restored the balance in their favour. Yet with the pitch expected to play tricks on the final day nothing can be taken for granted.
Blackwood plays as he was expected to play
Certainly Archer (3-42) could not be disregarded. Bowling at his most hostile he forced opener John Campbell to retire hurt – hit on the toe – and reduced West Indies to 7-2, the victims being the dependable Brathwaite and promising Brooks, on both of whom much had depended. Previously in this position West Indies side have crumpled. Not so, this time. While Chase (37) brought his now accustomed grip to the innings, Jermaine Blackwood (95) played just the type of innings he was expected to play. After seeing the Jamaican play so well in the dark and drizzle at Birmingham on the last tour, I was surprised that he was not regular a regular choice for the team – it is said that his inclusion at Southampton was a last minute decision between himself and an extra bowler – but he is unpredictable.
As Blackwood – with 12 fours – blasted West Indies out of trouble and into contention, the English fieldsmen added to their own troubles by missing him several times to possible catches and once to a wide-open run-out chance. When he was caught to another rash within sight of his century at 189-6 the match was as good as settled. It remained just for Holder and the returning Campbell to see them over the finishing-line. The victory was a good team effort with a refusal to yield when the issue seemed to be going against them. Fast bowler Shannon Gabriel was named the “man of the match”, and what an excellent match it was!
England 204 (B.A. Stokes 43, J.C. Buttler 35, D.M. Bess 31 n.o., R.J. Burns 30, J.O. Holder 6-42, S.T. Gabriel 4-42) & 313 (Z. Crawley 76, D.P. Sibley 50, B.A. Stokes 46, R.J. Burns 42, S.T. Gabriel 5-75, A.S. Joseph 4-25) lost to West Indies 318 (K.C. Brathwaite 65, S.O. Dowrich 61, R.L. Chase 47, S.S.J. Brooks 39, B.A. Stokes 4-49, J.M. Anderson 3-62) & 200-6 (J. Blackwood 95, R.L. Chase 37, J.C. Archer 3-45, B.A. Stokes 2-39) by 4 wickets