Posted by: tootingtrumpet | July 13, 2020

The Final Over of the First Test – England vs West Indies

Ball One – Jason Holder held the advantage

Ben Stokes wouldn’t be human if he didn’t wince a little as his shout at the toss proved correct and he faced the tricky choice of whether to bat or bowl. He’d selected two speedsters in Jofra Archer and Mark Wood (with his own thunderbolts up his sleeve), and could also call upon the world’s most prolific pacer with a containing off-spinner in hand to offer control. Skies were grey and the forecast wasn’t good. Jason Holder must have smiled when Stokes sent out one of England’s least experienced top orders ever to face the music. “Do what your opponent doesn’t want you to do” goes the cliché – it’s not wrong.

Ball Two – England gain an edge and lose wickets

Batsmen can be forgiven for being rusty – whether quite so many technical flaws should be excused is a different matter. Right through the order, English bats seem to close on striking the ball, the “working to leg” almost obsessively pursued even when Holder, no fool, packed the onside field having asked his bowlers to maintain a tight line. There’s a reason for bat width to be restricted to 108mm – why batsmen should knock a few extra cms off voluntarily and bring in the leading edge as a mode of dismissal, is beyond your correspondent’s ken.

Ball Three – “Top of off stump lads”

The West Indies attack bowled in the image of their captain – with great discipline, good plans and no little skill. Lines were tight, lengths fullish and most balls needed to be played. Even when England looked comfortable (Stokes and Zak Crawley on Day Four say), it lasted but a few minutes before the vice was reapplied. Such an approach can make the odd bad ball a dangerous weapon, as Rory Burns discovered in the second innings, slashing a rare Roston Chase long hop to a grateful John Campbell. One feels that the visitors will win more attritional sessions than they lose, something England’s captain appeared to recognise just before his second innings flurry of boundaries off Kemar Roach was choked off almost before it began. Naturally, his opposite number was the successful bowler.

Ball Four – The Buttler didn’t do it – again.

Joe Denly’s marshallow-soft second innings bunt to Holder off a nothing ball from Chase giving him an Denlyish 29 to go with a Denlyish 18 in the first dig, ushers Joe Root back for Old Trafford. A trickier decision concerns England’s white ball superman who increasingly treats the red ball as kryptonite. Jos Buttler’s first class average is closer to Sam Curran’s than it is to his potential replacement, Ben Foakes, so when he’s in a bad trot, it’s pretty bad. Worse still is a technique that is almost a caricature, the “stand still and poke or slog as the ball comes past” club cricketers have seen from a Number 7 who gets one blazing century a season to go with plenty of scores below 20. At nearly 30 years of age, patience with the man who has nine ODI centuries in 117 innings but just one Test ton in 75 knocks, is surely running out.

Ball Five – Jermaine makes his point

It’s seldom that the three outstanding performances in a Test will all be on the losing side, so West Indies probably won this Test more comfortably than the scores suggest. Stokes played well, Dom Bess and Crawley showed promise and Archer showed why his X Factor hostility puts him ahead of Wood in any discussion, but none matched the three leading West Indians. Holder’s first innings 6-42 set the match up (aided by his brilliant reviewing), Shannon Gabriel’s nine wickets pinned England back whenever the initiative hove into view and Jermaine Blackwood played an innings of unexpected forbearance to take his side from 27-3 to within a couple of blows of victory. In football terms, the margin was two clear goals

Ball Six – Raising a glass to Holder and Holding

After his extraordinarily personal and moving reflections on the life of a black man in cricket – the life of one of the greatest cricketers ever, lest we forget – Michael Holding enjoyed a remarkable Test match. Often in the past, and with good cause, his spirits would be dampened by the maladministration of West Indian cricket, by players too arrogant to learn the basics of the Test cricket and by a noble game’s inexorable slide into a form of garish entertainment. Not so in this match. His insights into technique and tactics, his stories of his own journey to greatness under the watchful eye of Andy Roberts and his commentary sessions in the company of Ebony Rainford-Brent (who also had a very good match) were a delight to hear. A chubby white boy in Liverpool saw Mikey bowl in 1976 and his life was changed. Thank you Sir.


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