Phil Simmons, West Indies’ coach, has challenged his players to consign the events of the first Test at the Ageas Bowl to “history”, as they look to guard against complacency and close out their first overseas series win against a leading Test nation in more than a quarter of a century.
Speaking after his team’s return to Emirates Old Trafford ahead of Thursday’s Test, Simmons praised the resolve of his players in Sunday’s four-wicket win in Southampton – in particular Jermaine Blackwood for his decisive 95 on the final day of the contest, and Shannon Gabriel, whose haul of nine wickets across the two innings demonstrated his return to full fitness following ankle surgery.
The result means that West Indies have now won four of last six Tests against England – dating back to their famous run-chase at Headingley in 2017, and encompassing their 2-1 series win in the Caribbean in early 2019. However, they have not won a series in England since 1988, and Simmons acknowledged that it would be their duty to start from scratch in the coming days.
“For me it was a great win because I think that it signified a lot of hard work being done by the players over the last four or five weeks,” he said. “But you don’t come to England and just win a Test match. It was a top-class Test match, with good cricket played by both teams, and even coming down to the last hour, it could have gone either way.
“To come out on top. It’s been great for us, and it was important because you don’t want to have to chase England in England. So the chasing is from their point of view now. But you guard against complacency by just trying to do the same things you did before the first Test. Right now that Test match is history. We’ve got to be thinking about what we do from Thursday to Monday.”
West Indies successfully backed up their first-Test victory in Barbados last year with an equally impressive win in Antigua, but the challenge of replicating that form in an overseas campaign is rather harder.
Leaving aside their tours of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, they have only taken the lead in the first Test of an away series on three occasions since 1995. In that year’s tour of England, they were pegged back to a 2-2 draw after a crushing win at Headingley, and were then overturned 3-1 on their next visit to England in 2000, and 2-1 in South Africa in 2007-08.
However, the circumstances of the current England tour are different in a number of key respects – firstly, the absence of a home crowd, which England arguably noticed during a flat day in the field in West Indies’ first innings, but perhaps more significantly, the extended preparation period, which may have been forced on the tourists by the Covid-19 outbreak, but which Simmons said harked back to his own playing days in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I think that has been the biggest influence on the performance,” he said. “I think the fact that we’ve been here for that period of time, we’ve had quality bowling in the nets because we’ve had nearly 11 seamers here, you can’t put a price on that.
“I think that’s something that we have to look at. I don’t like to go back into my [playing] days, but we would come to England and play something like three or four proper warm-up games before the first Test, and we would also have three-day or four-day games in between the Test matches. So I think that period of training goes a long way to how we performed in that first Test.”
One of the key beneficiaries of the lead-up time was Gabriel, who had not originally been named in West Indies’ first-choice 14, but was added to the squad after proving his fitness in both the nets and the intra-squad contests at Old Trafford. His hostility in both England innings echoed his crucial contributions to the win in the Caribbean last year, and Simmons took particular pleasure in his two-wicket burst on the pivotal fourth evening of the match.
“The hardest time for bowlers, after bowling from the morning, is that last session,” Simmons said. “To see him and Alzarri [Joseph] come up trumps in that session is so pleasing to us. With him coming back from that ankle surgery and working as hard he has worked since we’ve been here, it was a joy to see him successful in that period.”
Blackwood also proved his mettle, and not for the first time against England, against whom he now averages 55.00 in seven Tests. He withstood intense pressure on the final day – both from the scoreboard, which read 27 for 3 with John Campbell retired hurt, and from England’s fielders, with Ben Stokes in his ear from the outset as they attempted to goad him into a rush of blood.
“I think he must be commended because he has worked very hard on trying to get that temperament right for each part of his innings,” Simmons said. “As we saw in the first innings, it was still there a bit, but in the second he controlled it a lot better. And that helped him to bring home the game for us.”
Blackwood himself conceded that England’s words were “nothing bad, just cricket” and Simmons accepted that it was all part and parcel of the Test match battle.
“It’s what I would have done too,” he said. “Try to get him irrational, but I think he held his own. He looked at the situation and played it as well as he could have. So that shows that his mindset is improving, and that’s all you can ask for.” (ESPNCricinfo)