England v West Indies: 2nd Test, Day Five

Fabulous.  Despite the assorted efforts of governing bodies around the world to undermine it, Test cricket can still show itself to be the greatest exponent of the greatest game.  Those who want four day Test matches would rob us of days like these, they would remove the sheer drama, the extraordinary tension of cricket at its very best.  These people mustn’t win, they cannot win.  They cannot steal from fans, players and the game itself by removing the sheer drama of a fifth day run chase.  If this game doesn’t shut them up, then nothing will.  Yes, there are matches that don’t go to this point, but those that do tend to be the very best of all.  To coin a phrase or two, it’s time they piped down.  Moved on.

What a day.  Few gave the West Indies much chance, and there’s certainly no claimed wisdom after the event from this quarter either.  Survival seemed remote, victory seemed impossible.  Those taking advantage of the superbly price final day tickets (well done Yorkshire CCC, take note London grounds) would have gone expecting to see an England win, and maybe James Anderson taking his 500th Test wicket.  Instead what they saw were a pair of innings of the highest quality from Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope.  Having done it in the first innings, and got their team into a position of dominance that was then thrown away late on the fourth day, they did it again, but this time under serious pressure.

Sure, England made mistakes – Cook has been a very reliable slip catcher after an iffy start to his career, but here dropped Brathwaite on 4, and late on dropped Hope when it was just about possible to claw something from the day.  These things do happen sometimes, and even Stokes dropped a fairly straightforward one late on, albeit when it was too late to matter.  England’s bowling wasn’t as good as it could have been, and certainly the pitch didn’t deteriorate as they had hoped for a fifth day surface.  The spin expected didn’t transpire, the ball didn’t swing as much as anticipated, and without question they lacked penetration all day.

One thing that shouldn’t be criticised (but almost certainly will be) was Root’s decision to declare.  Setting a team 322 really ought to be enough, in almost all circumstances, and when the opposition are a weak side who managed to lose 19 wickets in a day last time out, it was an entirely reasonable, if aggressive declaration.  What it might do is prevent Root from doing it again, and that would be a shame.  Conservative declarations have been the order of business for England captains in recent times, and Kevin Pietersen was pilloried for the defeat in Chennai for his declaration (even though it was 9 wickets down when he did so).  If the same happens to Root for this, then he’ll be even more unlikely to repeat it, potentially costing England a win in other circumstances.  Of all the reasons England lost this match, an early declaration isn’t one of them.  To his credit, after the match he stood by it.  He’s right.

For today was all about the West Indies.  When something special happens, it is always the case that one side can be criticised for their performance causing defeat, rather than the other being praised for winning.  By definition, if a side gets over the line, they have done better than their opponents, and it’s always a trade off between high performance on the one hand and underperformance on the other.  Let’s be clear here:  England were definitely not awful, they didn’t lose this game, the West Indies won it.

Shai Hope is beautifully named, for a young player who has for some time been very highly rated in the Caribbean hasn’t up until now shown that talent in the Test arena.  Headingley 2017 might just be the time when he announced himself.  His first innings hundred was exceptional, his second innings one truly memorable.  Alongside Brathwaite, he frustrated the England bowlers, slowly chipping away at the formidable total, eating up time and grinding down England.

No-one before has ever scored two centuries in the same match at Headingley, and yet here there were nearly two.  Brathwaite fell for 95, but his young colleague not only seemed entirely unfazed by the situation, but by his own personal milestones.  His muted celebration on scoring his hundred indicated a player focused on the win, not his personal achievement.  He is a talent.

As the target dropped below three figures, and with the departure of Brathwaite, the man England would really not have wanted to get in was Jermaine Blackwood.  Playing a shot a ball he made a mockery of the required run rate, removing any pressure that might have built up as a team entirely unused to winning became aware that they just might have a real sniff.  Of course, it could have gone wrong.  He could have got out cheaply and then the pressure might have told.  But the point with all of these things is that he didn’t and it didn’t.  He took a risk, backed himself and it paid off handsomely.  While the others may have got more runs, he was the one who led the charge home, and took the strain from Shai Hope.  That he wasn’t there at the end following a magnificently over the top wild swing at the ball is pure Blackwood.  May he never change.

The raw words can barely do justice to what occurred today.  Irrespective of what happened here, the West Indies are not a good side.  England might not be a great team, they’re not even consistently a good team, but they are a much, much better side than their opponents.  For three and a half days the West Indies dominated them, and then England’s power and depth turned the tables.  The Test match was gone, it had been thrown away.  To then recover from that, to and not just win, but win comfortably, is the stuff of dreams.

It changes very little.  The West Indies remain a weakened and often dysfunctional side run by a shambolic governing body.  The disparity in pay between the haves in England, Australia and India versus the rest is still there.  Test cricket is still in trouble, players are still leaving to milk the T20 cow.  But sometimes there is a game that can sit outside of that.  Acknowledging the problems and the challenges doesn’t mean ignoring the play, and this was a reminder of just why it can be so special.

Well done the West Indies.  You were truly, truly magnificent.  England batted badly first time around, but they were by no means awful. They were outplayed ultimately by a team that was for whatever reason, humiliation from the first Test perhaps, utterly inspired.  It won’t just be West Indies fans celebrating, it will be neutrals too, and many an England fan who loves West Indies cricket, and above all else loves cricket for the sake of it.  Of all the home series England have played in the last few years, who would ever have thought it would be the West Indies who achieved this acute emotional response?

Rarely has a defeat for England felt so enjoyable.  Not because of them, not because of anything they did, but because of how extraordinary the West Indies were.  Hoping that they build on it may be an aspiration too far, but for now they can celebrate.  Their long suffering supporters can celebrate.

Above all else, cricket can celebrate.  That has to be worth pausing for, surely?

 

 

 

 

England vs West Indies: 2nd Test, Day Two

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.

 

2015 Century Watch #15 – Kraigg Brathwaite

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Kraigg Brathwaite – 116 v England at St. George’s, Grenada

The fifth test hundred at the St. George’s ground, the third by a West Indian, and the first by a Barbados man (the two others were by Jamaicans) was a triumph of application and temperament over doomsaying and dismissal. I’ve rarely been more appalled by a commentariat so ignorant and so dimissive of a ton, excused as it was because it was made on a road that was killing test cricket. Rant over. I like this man, and hope he has a top future.

For those who commentate and ignore anything outside the England bubble, this would not have come as a surprise. It was Brathwaite’s 4th test hundred in 19 tests (Samuels has 7 in three times as many games) and his second highest. His best was against Bangladesh, when he made a double (212) and one of his other four was made against South Africa in Port Elizabeth (another “dead” track). I don’t expect miracles from a youngster, but he’s doing well. Did you know he’s hit just the one six in test cricket?

This was the third highest score made at St. George’s, below Root and Gayle. It was his third century in the Caribbean (the others were made at Kingstown (St Vincent) and Port of Spain).

This was the 67th score of 116 in test cricket. As is usual, I’ll look back at some of the older scorers of this amount for any statistical frippery. Archie MacLaren made the first 116 in tests, back in 1901. This was in the first test of the 1901/02 Ashes and England won by an innings and a few against the hosts at the SCG. That was as good as it got for England, as we lost the next four. No doubt the Selvey and Newman’s of the age would have been hootering and a hollering about the SCG and telling us all to pipe down and nothing was wrong!

The last 116 was scored by Mushfiqur Rahim of Bangladesh against the West Indies in Kingstown (when Brathwaite got his double). I’ve seen a test 116, and it was by everyone’s favourite Bedford schoolboy, when he hit a doughty and defiant innings of that score at the WACA in 2006.

Cook pushes a single to complete his century against Australia in Perth 2006. Taken by this
Cook pushes a single to complete his century against Australia in Perth 2006. Taken by this “not true fan” of England. Anyone can use it if they like….

Mark Butcher and Chris Broad (as well as Cook) are Englishmen with two scores of 116 to their name. For the West Indies, they have just five scores of 116 out of those 67 – Clyde Walcott, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Kraigg Brathwaite and two for Shiv Chanderpaul.

Kraigg Brathwaite’s 100 came off 228 balls and contained 11 fours. He made his 116 in 252 and added three more boundaries to his total.