By Bryan Davis
A fascinating first Test match between England and West Indies (WI) was in the true nature of the test of cricketers, where bowlers have a fair chance against batsmen who had to fight every inch of the way to score runs. After a stuttering start on the first day due to the weather, it narrowed into a fitting climax on the final day, five days later. WI won this gruelling game by four wickets. Final scores: England 204 and 314. WI 318 and 200 for 6
The essence of cricket can only be found in a Test match. That’s why cricketers will always admit when interviewed that they either want to play in Tests or they love playing Test cricket. The reason being, Tests contain so many elements to conquer throughout a game that satisfaction runs deep. It encompasses excitement, intrigue, drama and even boredom, so the cricketer is always aware that his skill is being tested.
What brings out the best in the player is his adjustment to the conditions under which he plays. That’s why it is absolutely vital, regardless of his level of skill, for the cricketer to understand he must adapt to the prevailing conditions. And how he does this determines his quality as a player.
The pitch is the most vital factor of cause and effect in a five-day Test match. Its vagaries include the influence of the weather on the environment and this was witnessed in this match at Southampton between July 8 and 12. Ben Stokes, standing in for captain Joe Root, won the toss and decided to bat first. The English team had been practising at this venue for four weeks, this being the location of their camp, thus one would have thought he had the advantage of familiarity of the pitches. However, the surface was generating movement off the seam for the WI fast bowlers plus it was two-paced and produced variable bounce. In other words, it was a most demanding pitch for the English batsmen.
The weather was dark, rainy and gloomy and the umpires had to stop play and leave the field due to bad light and rain on a few occasions. In the end, only 17.4 overs were bowled out of a quota of 90 for a close of play score of 35 for one wicket. Although the bowlers had the best of the conditions, they did not make much use of it removing just one batsman, the opener, Dominic Sibley, being bowled while leaving alone an off-cutter from pacer Shannon Gabriel, the Trinidadian who is fully recovered from recent ankle surgery, bowling very fast indeed over 90 miles per hour.
While Gabriel bowled quick and furious, collecting four wickets for 62 runs, captain Jason Holder was superb. Bowling at fast-medium with an impeccable length and line, the wicket did the rest. His figures of six for 42 were richly deserved. The skipper showed why he is top of the world as an all-rounder. These two bowlers have improved their games considerably, so that they demand respect presently from international batsmen.
A heavy roller in between innings, giving the pitch that extra preparation it needed, after the lack of sunshine on the first day meant no evaporation of moisture. Hence, it improved for the West Indian batsmen although there was still something in it for the bowlers. Fifty-seven for one at close on the second day was converted to 318 with a concentrated approach, except for Jermaine Blackwood who issued a loose drive that was uncalled for, but he seemed to lack the patience in that first innings that he revealed so admirably in the second. The WI batting line-up fought hard to build a useful total on a difficult surface and led by 114 runs. Therefore, England had to fight for every run in their second innings to stay in the game, finishing with a respectable 314, leaving the Caribbean cricketers 200 runs to win in this strange first Test minus the public.
The character for the run-chase to win this dynamic game was provided by Blackwood (95), batting beautifully, with some exquisite strokes against very testing bowling. After a stumbling start, the patience, determination and fortitude expressed in this innings, proved a maturity of the batsmen for which I expect coach Simmons should take the credit. A good coach builds the confidence of the men under him through motivation and incentive with loud praises and quiet criticism.
Well done WI!!