The West Indies bowlers kept England in check for the first two sessions before Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler dominated the final two hours and put the home side in a commanding position on Day 1 of the third and final Test at Old Trafford in Manchester on Friday (July 24).
Rory Burns scored a gritty 147-ball 57, but it was the unbeaten 136-run stand between Pope and Buttler that pushed West Indies on the back foot. Pope is just nine runs away from his second Test century, while Buttler is batting on 56*. England were 258 for 4 in 85.4 overs before play had to be stopped due to bad light.
Earlier, England got off to the worst possible start after West Indies captain Jason Holder won the toss and opted to field first. Dominic Sibley, who scored a gritty century in the last encounter, was undone by a delivery coming in with the angle from Kemar Roach in the very first over. The ball pitched on a good length and the right-handed batsman missed the line of the ball and got pinned right in front.
Holder was criticised for his decision to bowl first in the second Test but the 28-year-old once again decided to take the same route. In their last nine Tests, West Indies have won eight tosses and have chosen to field first in seven of those, but have managed to win just two. In fact, pacers have struggled to pick wickets at Old Trafford in the first innings of a Test. Since 2010, the fast bowlers here average over 47 in the first innings, which is the worst amongst all the England venues that have hosted at least three Tests in this time-frame.
The fast bowling trio of Roach, Shannon Gabriel and Holder kept hitting that length just outside off but Burns and Root displayed tremendous patience and didn't bother much about the scoring rate. The two batsmen had quite a few play-and-miss moments but ensured that the middle order wasn't exposed to the new ball. Rahkeem Cornwall, who was brought in place of Alzarri Joseph, extracted good bounce off the surface but both Burns and Root played him well off the back foot.
The two looked set and had added 46 runs for the second wicket before Root was run-out for 17 against the run of play. This was the fourth time Root was run out in Test cricket - more than any other England captain. The mishap happened in the 22nd over when Burns tapped one towards backward point and the two batsmen just took off. Roston Chase covered ground quickly and got the direct hit, giving his team an important breakthrough as Root was just starting to look comfortable. West Indies bowlers bowled with great discipline and England were in a spot of bother after the departure of their captain.
The hosts in the morning had dropped Zak Crawley and Sam Curran and added James Anderson and Jofra Archer in their playing XI. England were one batsman short and Stokes had to bat at No. 4. Not that he would have minded, considering the form he has been in since 2019. The flamboyant allrounder did everything, literally everything in the second Test to propel England to a series-levelling win. The burden was once again on him to pull England out of the bog, along with Burns.
Roach however bowled with good intensity and targetted Stokes with short deliveries. Roach even managed to hit him on the helmet, and then got one to come back in from just outside off and knocked over Stokes for 20. After going wicketless for 86.5 overs, Roach finally managed to end his drought in the second Test and since then has been on fire.
Despite wickets falling at the other end, Burns carried on and completed his fifty off 126 deliveries. The left-hander formed a decent stand with Pope before Holder introduced Roston Chase into the attack. The offspinner straightaway did the job for his team as he managed to induce an edge off Burns' willow and Cornwall at first slip reacted well and grabbed a one-handed catch. This is the fourth time Chase has dismissed Burns in Test cricket and the opener averages just 3.75 against him.
Having been reduced to 122 for 4, England needed a partnership. Pope was moving along nicely, while out-of-form Buttler took his time to settle in. The West Indian pace trio bowled with great control and never allowed any England batsman to dictate terms in the first two sessions. Pope however looked balanced and played a couple of eye-pleasing shots before getting to his half-century with a solid cover drive. Unlike other England batsmen, Pope wasn't overtly defensive and pounced on every scoring opportunity.
Meanwhile, Buttler took a backseat before Cornwall was brought back into the attack and the wicketkeeper-batsman smoked him for two sixes in an over. The two scored at over four runs per over in the final session and started putting pressure on the West Indies bowlers. The giant Antiguan, Cornwall didn't have a great day and failed to make any impact. The surface got better and better and Pope and Buttler made the most of it. In the process, the duo also brought up the 100-run partnership.
Buttler, who hadn't scored a fifty in his last 14 Test innings, got to the milestone in the 82nd over. There were questions raised about his place in the Test squad but the wicketkeeper-batsman silenced his critics in style. The West Indian bowlers even tried their luck with the new ball but Pope and Buttler managed to survive that period till stumps were drawn.