I write this after play on the fourth day of the second Test with no knowledge of the outcome of the game.
THE fifth day should be most interesting. The scores at this time are England 469/9 declared and 37/2; West Indies 287. An overall lead of 219. The Englishmen, having lost the first Test, would have no claim on the Wisden trophy (the symbol of superiority in England/West Indies series) if the series is drawn as in that case the holders retain the prize. WI became holders when they trounced their adversary early 2019 in the Caribbean.
Thus, England were making a tremendous effort to win this Test to level the series and a chance to win back the cherished award that the two countries have been competing for since 1963. Hence, the batting approach in their first innings was a lesson in patience, doggedness, concentration and determination. A fierce outlook in ensuring the series isn’t lost.
This Test match was off to a late start due to the weather conditions. The light was poor and the outfield wet because of early morning rain. When the covers were eventually removed, the pitch revealed a grey colour and not the green usually associated with English wickets. The conditions were not as wet or as dismal as Southampton; however, with the success of that first Test still fresh, Jason Holder, the WI captain, decided to let England have first use of the pitch. Alas, several issues robbed him of any advantage he might have gained.
The first shocker was the bowling of Shannon Gabriel, winner of the Man-of-the-Match award in the first Test, grabbing nine wickets to help WI win. This Test was four days after the completion of that contest and although a different ground one would have thought he had not played a game for months. He sprayed the brand new ball wide of batsman, wicketkeeper and one even went directly to the skipper at second slip. It was weird. I wondered if the accolades, heaped on him a couple of days before, were too much for him to handle, hence, he melted under the burden of expectations plus the nervousness it caused. He was taken off after three overs and when in due course he returned, he gradually improved, but never near to the heights he achieved in the previous Test.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Kemar Roach, the most experienced of the fast bowlers, kept bowling wide of the stumps. Dominic Sibley, the opening batsman for England, struggling for form, was quite happy to have a good look at the pace and bounce of the pitch, courtesy Roach, bowling two feet outside the off stump. One of the fundamentals of new ball bowling in a first-class cricket game is always to make the batsman play. Only in certain circumstances is this basic requirement changed though this was not one of them.
Therefore, the advantage of inserting the opposition in a game, is to use the opportunity of the preparation moisture in the pitch to get movement off the seam. This usually disappears sometime between lunch and tea if the day is hot then the wicket becomes ideal for batting. That is the reason that opening batsmen have special techniques, they are to deal with the new ball on pitches fresh from preparation.
WI wasted the new ball, allowing Sibley to play himself in, while the wicket grew easier. It was also a better pitch than the first game with a more even bounce and a consistent pace. Off-break bowler Roston Chase had to come on with his gentle off-rollers and pick up a couple of wickets. Sibley, with the benefit of two chances at close of play, was 86 not out and continued the following day to 120. Ben Stokes, on the other hand was more enterprising and scored a well-deserved century.
They batted WI out of the game scoring 469/9 declared. The English could consider themselves unlucky to have had an entire third day abandoned through bad weather. Kraigg Brathwaite played well for 75 as did Shamarh Brooks and Roston Chase, both scoring fifties, nonetheless, overall, on a good batting wicket, the batting was shaky with the last 6 wickets falling for 52.
Although a few deliveries are keeping low it is still a good batting wicket and WI will only have themselves to blame if they lose this game.