With an hour left in the game, as the final drinks break of this Test was called, Ben Stokes walked alongside Shannon Gabriel. It was a matter of time for an England victory with Gabriel and his new-ball partner Kemar Roach doing their best to avoid the inevitable. But Stokes did not want West Indies to relax: he said a few words in the direction of Gabriel, who just kept his head down. First ball upon the resumption, England got the breakthrough.
Stokes plucked out two stumps and why not – he had flattened West Indies’ bowlers with the bat first and then broken the resolve of their batsmen twice via crucial breakthroughs with the ball. One of those was that of Jermaine Blackwood, just a ball away from tea.
Blackwood was in the middle of a flourishing partnership with Shamarh Brooks in the second session. Their alliance had cleaned up after the farce that was the Windies top-order, which showed no fight, resolve or technique and succumbed at the first punch from England.
Blackwood had picked up three early fours off Sam Curran and had dominated Dom Bess from the word go. Playing his naturally attacking game, Blackwood felt comfortable. So much so in that final over before tea, bowled by – who else? – Stokes, Blackwood felt he could afford to smile and chirp back to the England allrounder.
Stokes was attempting to expose Blackwood’s weakness: facing the short-pitched delivery. Bowling from around the stumps, wide of the crease, Stokes banged in the perfect short ball, that climbed sharply into the ribs of the airborne Blackwood. Instead of ducking it, Blackwood responded awkwardly to fend it off, but lobbed a catch that Jos Buttler took running to his left. Stokes did not waste the opportunity to say a few words in the direction of Blackwood.
It was the turning point and West Indies never recovered. West Indies lost this Test because of many reasons, but the most important was their batsmen never showed the relentlessness of Stokes. With the bat, Stokes had shown the grit and determination to succeed – however ugly he looked, however slow he played. What mattered to him was the big picture, building a big total, and then forcing West Indies to follow-on. Allied with the belief of Stuart Broad, Stokes nearly had West Indies facing embarrassment on Sunday.
Although England ultimately had to bat again, they did so from a position of strength. Then, for the second day in succession, Broad made the new ball talk. John Campbell had already spilled an easy catch from Stokes, and then further embarrassed himself by once again becoming a walking wicket.
Shai Hope, too, has been hopeless. A nip-backer from Broad reared off a length from the fourth-stump line to hit the top of his off stump. Hope meanwhile squatted in response as if it was a grubber. Hope’s Test career now hangs in balance. He has been totally out of sorts, unable to find a rhythm and settle down. Unlike Kraigg Brathwaite, who has at least proved that he can play late and play time despite his string of failures in the second innings, Hope has looked like man with a head full of questions instead.
For once the vigilant defence of Roston Chase failed, leaving the responsibility of saving the Test match with Brooks and Blackwood. With Blackwood showing intent, Brooks played second fiddle initially, and after the Jamaican left, he showed character to withstand the renewed pressure from England. Could he do what Blackwood did in Southampton to take West Indies to the finish line and secure a draw? He only had one specialist batting partner in his captain Jason Holder, after Shane Dowrich once again showed his weakness against the short delivery.
With the ball getting softer, but staying low, in the final session Curran went round the stumps, and lured Brooks with slow cutters. The ploy was to draw the batsman forward with silly mid-off and a short cover placed as a trap. Brooks was attentive initially and watched the ball, playing late with soft hands. The margin of error was zero – if he failed, it was end of story. And that is what happened when Curran burst through, despite the watchful gaze of Brooks, who did not even review having been rapped on the knee, in front of off stump.
They might have eventually taken the game into the final hour, but West Indies were not close to batting out the 80-odd overs they needed to for a draw that would secure the Wisden Trophy. West Indies made a cumulative total of 485 runs in the match, which was nearly what Engalnd made in the first innnings (469). No West Indies batsman has scored a century in the series so far. Brathwaite, Blackwood and Brooks have shown some resolve, but they will admit they have lacked the hunger and belief of Stokes.
Despite the slow nature of the pitches and dry conditions, the tourists have been vulnerable against balls arriving on the stumps: so far this series they have lost 22 wickets in that fashion, at 10.50 apiece.
Holder admitted it was a concern. “Many of our batters got caught on the crease, on a surface like this you need to commit forward or back,” Holder told Sky Sports after the defeat. “We’ve got to understand scenarios better. We fought through decent periods in the game but maybe need a little bit more grit, determination to get through challenging spells. It’s just about getting through those tough spells.”
In the afternoon session the TV cameras caught West Indies head coach Phil Simmons stealing a few winks in the dressing room. That image captures nicely the state of mind of most of his batsmen. We all have taken a nap at work but in a Test match is a different thing: West Indies were caught snoozing by a relentless England. (ESPNCricinfo)