Remarkable. Outside of the team itself, barely anyone would have picked the West Indies to have a day like this. It wasn’t just that they were dominant, it’s also that it was on the back of a good day yesterday too – consolidating their position, and by the close of play creating one of strength. Kraigg Brathwaite has shown for some time he has the right mental approach and patience for Test cricket, not least a mere two Tests ago against Pakistan. In a struggling side he’s the one batsman of experience and ability, but even with that said, the omnishambles of the first Test made this a particularly impressive innings. Shai Hope, in scoring his maiden Test century, was perhaps even more exceptional, not least how he didn’t allow the excitement of the achievement to distract him from his greater purpose, of getting his team in the ascendant. Few would have blamed a young player had he got out soon after the landmark, but instead he carried on, and overnight is closing in on 150.
England could have bowled better for sure; although they took two early wickets, neither Anderson and nor particularly Broad got it quite right, the tendency to bowl short and admire the ball prettily whistling past a raised bat being much too frequent. It wasn’t until Woakes came on for a decidedly unlucky initial spell that the batsmen were given cause to have to play forward rather than staying comfortably on the back foot. Thereafter, Woakes was fairly unthreatening, perhaps not altogether surprising in a player returning from injury. But these were good bowling conditions across the day, which made the 246 run fourth wicket stand all the more impressive. The ball seamed and swung throughout the day, unsurprisingly lessening as it got older, but still with something in it for the pace men throughout.
A couple of late wickets seemed to herald an England fightback. The dismissal of Brathwaite brought Roston Chase to the middle, and having been sat in his pads all day, it was the most predictable thing in the world that he would fall cheaply. Any possibility of a late in the day collapse was however stemmed by Jermaine Blackwood meeting triumph and disaster in the way he always does – with a flurry of shots.
England are perhaps deservedly paying for their profligacy with the bat on day one. Maybe it was complacency, and while that may never be acceptable, it could be deemed understandable given the turkey shoot of the first Test. For the tourists to take advantage of that should warm the cockles of anyone who truly loves Test cricket, not just for the sharp reminder to England but more importantly for what it might do for this West Indies team. The appalling disparity in resources between the rich and poor in world cricket hasn’t gone away; the fears for the future of the game outside the Big Three are still there, but over the last two days the West Indies have played with defiance, heart and considerable skill. It is a joy to see.
There’s another element here too. After two days of this Test the West Indies are on top, but the outcome of the match is uncertain. Over 140 years of Test cricket this wasn’t worthy of comment, for a five day Test match could seesaw for some time before the outcome became apparent. But in recent times this hasn’t been the case – the second day has consistently been the one where one team decisively took charge, with the remainder of the match being played out to an inevitable outcome. This could yet become a real, proper Test match. One where both sides strive to defeat the other, not go through the motions with the result known to all long in advance. When cricket is like this, it justifies the belief of those who care about it that Tests are the greatest form of the greatest game, where every session, every bowling spell, every wicket holds the greatest of importance within the wider pattern of the unfolding match.
Is it possible we might just get that? England are by no means out of it, the difference between the sides is such that they will feel they can manage a sizeable deficit and still win, but the visitors will know that they have a prime opportunity to take this chance and square the series. There will be many cheering them on, and not just fans of the team. Cricket West Indies might not deserve it, the ICC might not deserve it, but this inexperienced shadow side who have performed so valiantly in this match do. And perhaps more than anyone, those who love cricket for the sake of cricket and not for what it can do to the bank balances of the already wealthy deserve it.
Day three might well be a fantastic day of Test cricket. Extraordinary.