England 284/8 (Lead by 170 runs)
The final session of the day was a tale of two halves. In the first 19 overs, Ben Stokes and Zak Crawley added 81 runs. In the next 15, England added only 35 runs and lost five wickets.
Judging by the way Stokes and Crawley started, there was a definite shift in tactic. After scoring less than three runs an over all day, England needed quick runs to surge ahead. Stokes did not get off the mark for 18 balls. In the 61 balls, he added 46.
Crawley started the session continuing his dominance over Roston Chase. He hit him twice for four through the lesser populated off-side. To challenge himself further, he opted for the reverse sweep through the same region to get to his half-century.
There was a calm before the storm until West Indies took the new ball. Once the heavier ball was in play, Stokes was ready with his drives. He hit two delightful shots on the off-side and two better punches past mid-on. As the duo hit the new ball pair of Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach for 29 in the first five overs, there was a sudden shift in momentum.
But, the West Indies have the calmer head of Jason Holder to go to. He first bowl a maiden to Crawley. In the next over, he frustrated Stokes with not letting him unleash hit shots. Similar to the first innings, Stokes was walking across the off stump. It worked against other bowlers but failed against Holder twice in a row. Trying to play towards mid-on after moving across, Stokes edged the ball to the left one of the two gullies.
Throughout his innings of 76, Crawley could not help but close his bat face while looking to drive the pacers on the off side or straight down the ground. When he actually tried to close the face to play on the leg side, he got a leading edge back to Alzarri Joseph.
Joseph then dismissed a sorry looking Jos Buttler. An inside edge back to the stumps is all Buttler could get after playing away from his body to a ball coming in.
To put aside the disappointments with the new ball, Gabriel bowled the spell of the day. Though it was to a number eight batsmen, it would have been a mouthful for the top-order. Bowling at a good length that just moved away after pitching, he breached the defences of Dom Bess. Even Ollie Pope could not contain his pace late in the day. To a rising ball, Pope was late in his defence and guided the ball back on his stumps.
As things stand, England are 170 runs ahead with two wickets in hand. In their cricketing history, England have defended a target of 150 to 200 runs only six times of 26 occasions when such a target is set. They have lost 13 times in such a scenario. However, in the last Test here at the Ageas Bowl, England dismissed India for 184 in the final innings.
Whatever the outcome, a dominant hand by Crawley and Stokes has ensured that England are in with a fighting chance. Though, judging by the conditions and England’s bowling in the first innings, it is certainly advantage West Indies.
England 168/2 (Lead by 54 runs)
As the guideline suggests, when in doubt over the position of the bowler’s heal while delivering the ball, the benefit will lie with the bowler. Following the guidelines has been tough in the UK recently.
It was an uncharacteristic lack of concentration from Dom Sibley just after reaching his fifty. It had him to attempt an ungainly poke only to guide the ball back to his stumps. From every camera angle, there was uncertainty over Shannon Gabriel’s heal position. Yet, Michael Gough decided to call it a no-ball. Sibley, reprieved and relieved.
The joy was short-lived. In a carbon copy of his dismissal in the warm-up game, Sibley shuffled across two balls later and got a faint tickle to the keeper. The reprieval and relief now were Gabriel’s.
17 times in 28 Test innings so far, Joe Denly has managed to score 20 and above. In 11 of these, he has failed to cross the 50-run mark. The session started with all West Indian pacers testing his ability to counter the in-swing. With a strike-rate of 43.2 against them, he was not doing a fluent job. Yet, against Roston Chase, he went down a gear to slow the scoring rate to 38.5 runs per hundred balls. Bogged down, he gave the tourists the second soft dismissal of the day when he chipped to mid-wicket.
The case was different for Zak Crawley. Decisive and aggressive he used his feet well to hit a boundary over mid-on against Chase to start with. The fielder moved back to the boundary immediately. He later hit him over mid-off to show the variety of his shots. There were a lot of easy singles in between with a 6-3 on-side field with mid-on deep.
The shot of the session was when Crawley thwarted West Indies in-swing plan by hitting a perfect on-drive to Kemar Roach. With the way he is batting, things look bleak for Denly’s Test career.
England 79/1 (Trail by 35 runs)
A kind of a session that no one will mind missing out on. Had there been spectators on the ground, some would be enjoying a nap and others probably engaged in solving a Sudoku. A low-scoring but a significant session for England’s prospect in the Test.
England added only 69 runs in the session. But, as these came at a loss of only one wicket, that too towards the end, the home side managed to chisel down the lead to now be only 35 runs behind.
For the West Indies’ bowlers, the conditions on offer were very different from the first innings mayhem. A slower pitch under bright sunshine had them alter their plans. Inside five overs, they shifted to bowling at Rory Burns’s stumps with sweepers on the leg side. The openers were fluent in the first hour as they added 47 runs in the 14 overs. Dom Sibley waiting for anything bowled to his body and scoring 30 out of the 31 runs on the leg side.
To highlight the nature of the wicket, Roston Chase came out to ball in the ninth over of the day. Ahead of Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph. It was five overs leading up to the first hour that revealed the true nature of the wicket. First, a ball from Chase turned with a puff of dust coming out of the pitch. Three overs later, a good length ball from Holder refused to bounce after pitching.
Post drinks, the two openers went into a shell. As if in competition to play out most maidens, they added 13 runs in 10 overs. As it often happens, a dry spell produced a wicket. Looking to punish a short and wide delivery from Chase, Burns mistimed the cut to backward point. Yet another start wasted.
There was a time in England cricket when they tried everyone from the nook and corner of the country to open for them. Since Andrew Strauss retired in August 2012, they had 20 pairs to open for them. It seems now that they have finally found a duo they can stick with for days to come.
Burns reached to a 1000 Test runs in the first innings. He is the first among openers for England since Alastair Cook reached there in 2007. Sibley now has played 50 or more balls in seven out his last eight innings.
As they touched the 61-run mark, they ensured the highest opening partnership for England since 2018. Beating the 60-run stand that Cook and Keaton Jennings put together against India at the Oval in 2018. They were also the first opening pair to bat for 35-overs since Cook and Jennings against South Africa at Lord’s in 2017.
After spending a better part of the session forcing himself to be awake Joe Denly walked out to bat. Under pressure to play a big innings, he somehow managed to survive till lunch. Utilising every bit of his anger, Joseph hit him on most balls of the last over before lunch. The first session belonged to England but they need to win the other two as well to stand a chance.