What a comeback that was for Test cricket. After the world was plunged into chaos and uncertainty became the only certainty, we wondered if it would even happen this summer. But it did happen – and how! So the first Test wasn’t the hands-to-head-in-disbelief nail-biter of last year’s Ashes contest at Headingley, although in fairness, not many are. No, England vs West Indies at the Ageas Bowl was a slow-burner with myriad storylines woven together to create a classic.
The Jason Holder v Ben Stokes contest, Shannon Gabriel‘s transformation from recovering reserve to nine-wicket contributor to West Indies’ victory, Jofra Archer‘s fiery return to Test cricket after injury and Jermaine Blackwood‘s fulfilled promise (on the second attempt) to change his ways and bat long leading to a crucial innings, all combined to make the first international cricket match in nearly four months entirely gripping. Now turning to Emirates Old Trafford, West Indies are a big step closer to securing their first Test series victory in England since 1988.
Just be careful how you describe the significance of West Indies’ position to Holder, their captain, who took issue in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday with one journalist using the word “unbelievable” when asking about the prospect of breaking a 32-year drought. There is, understandably a reluctance within the West Indies camp to focus too much on history, with Holder and head coach Phil Simmons acknowledging that there is plenty of work to do. However, Simmons put the situation in context when he said: “You don’t want to have to chase England in England. So the chasing is from their point of view now.”
So the focus turns to England and the big (though not unexpected) news that Joe Denly has been dropped. He makes way for Joe Root, who returns from paternity leave to resume the captaincy from stand-in Stokes and the No. 4 spot in the order from Denly, who made his Test debut during West Indies 2-1 series triumph in the Caribbean 18 months ago. Unconvincing returns in that time and young Kent team-mate Zak Crawley‘s impressive second-innings 76 batting at No. 3 in Southampton made Denly’s position untenable.
Gabriel’s five-wicket haul in England’s second innings, which came after he had been elevated to the Test squad having travelled as a reserve following ankle surgery, was instrumental in West Indies’ success. So too was Blackwood’s ability – after a failing in the first innings – to suppress his aggressive instincts as a batsman and guide his side a long way to their second-innings target of 200 for victory with a considered 95. But the fact that England’s batsmen only managed 204 in the first innings – when Holder took a career-best 6 for 42, went a long way to ensuring the hosts’ undoing.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies WWLLL
In the spotlight
With England’s batting falling short, the next man under scrutiny will be Jos Buttler. With selectors having finally dropped Denly – many would argue not before time – it can also be said that Buttler has been given ample opportunity to make an impact with the bat. Buttler clearly has the faith of the England hierarchy, with Root on the eve of the second Test expressing confidence he is not far away from transferring his limited-overs prowess to the longer format. Root drew on Buttler’s first-innings 35 off 47 balls, but his second-innings 9 and the fact that he averages 31.46 with a solitary century from 42 Tests has raised questions over whether he should be regarded as a white-ball specialist. With every innings that falls short of expectation, and England not short of wicketkeeping talent, the pressure mounts on Buttler.
Similar to England, it is West Indies’ batting that has found to be more wanting than the bowling. Shai Hope travelled to England in the spotlight after his historic twin centuries at Headingley in 2017 and the gaze has only intensified given that they remain his only Test hundreds. Scores of 16 and 9 in Southampton now mean the eyes on him are burning red hot. Like Root with Buttler, however, Holder has said he believes a big score is imminent for Hope. Joshua Da Silva thrust his name forward during the West Indies’ intra-squad warm-up matches but he remained on the sidelines for the first Test. Without weight of runs – Hope has managed just two fifties from his last 34 innings – he is in need of a big knock.
With the Denly issue now settled, attention turns to the bowlers for England, particularly the fast bowling stocks, where Joe Root is in a position not unlike a collector of fine cars, some of them very fast. With Archer producing a jaw-dropping seven-over spell of pace and bounce on the final day in Southampton, he will play back-to-back Tests. Mark Wood and James Anderson, however, will be rested. Let’s face it, when you have a prized Porsche that has been in more than a few scrapes, and a beloved Rolls Royce – ageless but getting on in years all the same and recently returned from the workshop – why would you take them out and flog them every weekend? That’s especially when you face six big races in seven weeks and have a fuelled up Stuart Broad raring to go after being left in the garage during the last rally. With Wood and Anderson out, England have Broad, Chris Woakes, Ollie Robinson – who earned his first call-up to the senior squad – and left-arm seamer Sam Curran to choose from.
England (possible): 1 Rory Burns, 2 Dom Sibley, 3 Zak Crawley, 4 Joe Root, 5 Ben Stokes (capt), 6 Ollie Pope, 7 Jos Buttler (wk), 8 Chris Woakes/Sam Curran/Ollie Robinson, 9 Dom Bess, 10 Jofra Archer, 11 Stuart Broad
John Campbell has pulled up okay after suffering a bruised, as opposed to broken, toe when he was struck by a yorker from Archer and retired hurt in West Indies’ second innings at the Ageas Bowl. Campbell did return after Blackwood’s place-sealing innings and hit the winnings runs. Both are in line to play. Kemar Roach looked distraught at one point after going wicketless for the match but his fortitude in the second innings – he did not leak runs and kept the pressure on – means he has little to worry about. In fact, with cloudy conditions forecast for Manchester, Roach could be the tourists’ go-to bowler for this match. Depending on the pitch, there may be a temptation to bring in offspinner Rahkeem Cornwall.
West Indies (possible): 1 John Campbell, 2 Kraigg Brathwaite, 3 Shai Hope, 4 Shamarh Brooks, 5 Roston Chase, 6 Jermaine Blackwood, 7 Shane Dowrich (wk), 8 Jason Holder (capt), 9 Alzarri Joseph, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Shannon Gabriel
Pitch and conditions
With overcast conditions forecast for the first two days, followed by rain on Saturday and then some sunshine breaking through, there could be plenty of fun to be had for the seamers. The pitch has been covered for the past two days due to the rain, but Root managed to take a peek on Tuesday and said: “It was a nice brownish colour, it looked a good wicket. I’m expecting it to be just that.”
The Old Trafford pitch looked a fair bit quicker than the Ageas Bowl in the warm-ups and you would expect it to produce more runs. The fact that it’s been under cover for a good amount of time could present another tough toss decision. It may feel a little chilly, with temperatures in the high teens or low 20s expected but, having spent the best part of a month based at the ground before re-locating to Southampton for the first Test, the touring team will be fairly accustomed to Manchester climes. For the England side, well, that’s just summer, isn’t it?
Stats and trivia
Joe Root’s average at Old Trafford is 85.00, his best among home venues where he has played more than 1 Test.
England have a 9-1 win-loss record at Old Trafford in the last 12 Tests, their only loss was against Australia last summer.
In the last five Tests in Manchester, going back to 2013, seamers have averaged 28.44 (121 wickets) to 43.44 by spinners (36 wickets).
After going past 100 Test wickets in West Indies’ last home Test, against India in Jamaica last summer, Jason Holder needs 83 runs to reach 2000 in Test cricket and become only the third West Indies players behind Sir Garfield Sobers and Carl Hooper to achieve the feat.
Kemar Roach needs seven more wickets to become the first West Indian fast bowler since Curtly Ambrose to reach 200 in Tests.
“It’s a matter of time before we see some of those special innings that we’ve seen in white-ball cricket, his performances in that arena, transfer across.”
Joe Root has faith in Jos Buttler.
“I don’t like the word you use in terms of ‘unbelievable’ but if that’s the word you choose to use, then fair enough.”
Jason Holder takes umbrage at an assessment of his side being on the verge of a first series victory in England for 32 years.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo