England vs. West Indies – 2nd Test, Day 4 – “One Of Those Spells”

There is a serious danger of this blog becoming a Stuart Broad fan site. For essentially the first five hours of play, this Test match was seemingly drifting towards an inevitable draw. Then Broad took the second new ball and ripped through the West Indian middle order and the game was not wide open, but at least still in play.

The first hour seemed promising for England fans, with at least two clear wicket-taking opportunities going to (and through) the slip cordon. Eventually, it was Bess who managed to dislodge yesterday’s nightwatchman with a sharp catch from Ollie Pope at short leg. England fans hoped that this would start an avalanche of wickets, but that didn’t come to pass. The flow of chances seemingly dried up, with wickets falling sporadically but without the  tourists looking overly troubled as they meandered towards avoiding the follow-on.

England took the new ball with the West Indies on 235/4, apparently set to comfortably bat out the rest of the day. What happened instead was Stuart Broad dragging England back into contention with three wickets in four overs. Two lbws and a bowled show the importance (as ever) of bowling at the stumps, although Broad was certainly helped by the new ball eliciting variable bounce which left the tourists unsure whether to go forwards or back to his deliiveries.

Woakes continued Broad’s good work, taking the final two wickets of the innings, but it was too late for England as perennial thorn-in-England’s-side Roston Chase scored the runs which took the West Indies past their follow-on target, forcing England to bat again.

Ben Stokes left the field apparently holding his side early in the evening session. Given that he bowled an 11-over spell, largely consisting of bouncers, it wasn’t much of a surprise, but fortunately for England it was apparently just indigestion. He returned to the field not long later, and was called upon to serve as a pinchhitting opener when England’s second innings began.

Stokes’s opening partner was Jos Buttler. He was bowled for a duck, getting an inside edge on a short and wide delivery which cannoned into his stumps. Whilst it may be unfair to read anything at all into a Test batsman’s performance in such circumstances, it does bear mentioning that the two situations he faced in this Test are supposed to be his strengths. In the first innings, he came in with England on 352/5. In that scenario, Buttler is supposed to score runs quickly (using his undoubted white ball prowess) and put pressure on the opposition without taking time out of the game. Instead, he scored 40 from 79 balls. Understandable restraint, given that his continued selection has been questionable for a while now and he needs a big score to secure his place in the side, but arguably not what was needed by his team. In the second innings, when he could essentially treat the game like the shorter formats in which he thrives, he simply mishit a short, wide ball from Kemar Roach which was there for the taking. It may beg the question: If Jos Buttler won’t deliver for England in the exact circumstances that he is supposed to thrive in, what is the point of picking him at all?

England’s batting order reset after the experimental opening duo of Stokes and Buttler, with regular number three Zak Crawley scoring a quickfire 11 before being bowled by Kemar Roach. Regular number 4 Joe Root then came to the crease, in the too-familiar situation of England being 17/2. He and Stokes managed to see out the day, with England finishing on 37/2.

This all means that England are currently 219 runs ahead, with 98 overs scheduled for tomorrow because of yesterday’s rain. England need to win the game in order to regain the Wisden Trophy and avoid drawing their second consecutive home Test series and so, if that is a priority, we might expect a fairly early declaration tomorrow. If England managed to score 50 runs in the first 40 minutes, for example, that would leave the West Indies chasing 270 runs in 86 overs at a minimum of 3.14 runs per over. The later England leave it, and the more the West Indies can restrict the scoring rate, the greater the chance of the tourists rescuing (or even winning) this game.

After a rather dull first couple of sessions, Stuart Broad really rescued England and leaves us going into tomorrow’s play with all three results still on the table. Test cricket is great.

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