West Indies 57-1
It was like they did not spend a good two sessions facing Jason Holder. It was like he bowled to a different team on a different pitch under different conditions. As England bowlers stood out to bowl against a fragile West Indian opening pair, they ignored the example set by the West Indian captain.
Ahead of the game, England took a big decision to drop Stuart Broad. They might be wishing to have his service instead after what Jofra Archer offered in the first spell.
Archer and Mark Wood bowled 19.3% of their balls full or on a good length. In comparison, the West Indies pacers bowled 70% of their balls in those areas while taking all ten wickets to fall.
If the competition was for pace, Wood would be on top of the podium. For he crossed 90-mile an hour with ease while touching 95-mile now and then. But, in conditions suited for swing, England had a short-leg in place for Wood.
James Anderson was the only English bowler to use the conditions well. But, even the English umpires on the field were having a bad day. After the change of innings, it was Richard Illingworth’s turn. He raised his finger twice for an LBW appeal against John Campbell off Anderson. One from over the wicket and the other from around. The ball pitched outside leg on the first one and was too high on the second. DRS reversed the decision on both occasions.
Four balls later, Anderson pushed his length further and caught Campbell in front yet again. Even the DRS could not save him the third time. Before this, the West Indian openers, neither of whom average thirty since 2018, made merry of the indifferent lines from Archer.
Wood’s barrage under fading lights could not continue for long as the light-metres were out soon. After 17.4 overs in the afternoon session yesterday, it was 19.3 overs in the evening session today before the light intervened. With a low first innings total and a deep West Indian batting line-up, England need to set their bowling plans in order soon.
Jason Holder for President anyone? Wickets with the ball: a piece of cake sir. Using the reviews: free lessons for Tim Paine. Cheering the team after drop catches: learn Virat, learn.
For the first eight overs after lunch, conditions seemed different. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler were on a roll. Shannon Gabriel? Well… tired. Pelting 41 runs in these overs to raise a half-century stand, the duo were turning the tide.
Few looseners from Gabriel helped Buttler who hit four boundaries in as many overs. As for Stokes, he carried on with the same plan as before lunch. To counter the movement from around the wicket, he walked across off stump for every ball, trying to hit on the leg side.
The strategy worked against the fuller Kemar Roach but failed against the taller Holder who pulled his length a little back. Even against Roach, a crisp drive went straight to short cover only for Shamarh Brooks to spill it out.
What added to Stokes’s downfall was not his movement across or towards the bowler, but the fact that he played the shot while still in motion. Only to get an outside edge to break 67 run stand and open the door for Holder’s men.
Holder’s fourth wicket was as much as Shane Dowrich’s. An over after dismissing the opposition captain, Holder bowled a perfect outswinger to Jos Buttler. After two easy drops, a full stretch from Dowrich to pluck the ball in his right hand was a pleasant surprise.
Holder took his seventh five-for after Richard Kettleborough failed to read the line of the ball for the third time. With Jofra Archer’s dismissal on the third successful review in a row, Holder joined Courtney Walsh for the most five-fors for West Indies as a captain: 7.
Five became six after Mark Wood threw his bat to a one that moved away, only for the fielder at gully to pounce on it.
The biggest positive for England in this Test so far is the way Dom Bess batted. Coming in at 8, Bess started with back to back blows to the box off Alzarri Joseph. The nerves soon settled as Bess along with some support from others milked Joseph for 27 runs in the next four overs.
The best of Bess was against Roach whom he cut twice past backward point for back to back boundaries. Gabriel then put an end to the shenanigans after cleaning up James Anderson.
Career-best figures of 6/42 ensured that Holder now has a bowling average of 19.3 since 2017. This is the best among all bowlers with 50 wickets in this period. Now is his turn with the bat.
West Indies pacers took 55 wickets in three Tests when England travelled to the Caribbean in 2018-19. Shannon Gabriel took nine of these, 50% less than Kemar Roach. Yet, it was him that the England batsmen found the least comfortable to face. Their control percentage of 75.9% against him was lower than all the other pacers.
His inswingers from an awkward angle force the batsmen to play. As Dom Sibley found out yesterday, leaving Gabriel can be fatal. However, as Joe Denly discovered, not letting the front foot come forward in time against him can be equally ominous.
Changing plans against Rory Burns and coming round the wicket to him, Gabriel added one more to his tally. With only 16 runs added to the overnight score, England were three down. With a front foot that goes way across and a bat that comes down facing mid-on, it a surprise that Rory Burns now has 1000 Test runs. To a ball that was full and angling into him, the instinctive across movement of his front foot let to his downfall. Having to retreat the foot back, he lost his balance as the ball thud into his pads.
Richard Kettleborough took it upon himself to prove the decision for an extra review right. First with the appeal against Burns and then seven overs later, against Zak Crawley. The bowler this time was the West Indian captain himself. Bowling a majority of balls that swung away to Crawley, Holder foxed him with an in-dipper. Crawley became the second batsmen in a row to get out on the review.
Since 2018, Roach has bowled 97% of his balls to left-handers from around the wicket. This is an improvement from 48% for five years before that. As a result the wickets have come at a better average of 14 as compared to 29.5 earlier. Yesterday, he was the only to come around the wicket to Burns. Today, it was the same strategy for the England captain. Beaten a few times on the late away movement, Ben Stokes tried to go on the offensive. The method adopted was to walk outside the off that saved him from an LBW shout. Or, to walk to down the ground that helped him crunch one down the ground.
Among all the odd technicians, Ollie Pope is a visual delight. An attacking batsman who is strong on both sides of the wicket. The two boundaries that he hit instilled some confidence. A drive through the covers hit just one ball after flicking one to mid-wicket was the shot of the day. In Holder’s next over, Pope fended a ball that he could have left on line as well as length through to Shane Dowrich's eager gloves.
Apart from all the five wickets, perhaps the most crucial moment of the session was in the third over before lunch. Not bowing down on playing his strokes, Stokes pulled a chest-high delivery from Alzarri Joseph. Running in from deep fine-leg, Roach put in a dive that looked unnecessary on replay, only for the ball to wobble out.
Flustered by the drop, Stokes took his eyes out off the next short ball only to take a blow on his back. Calming his nerves he pulled the next one that was just waist-high o the mid-wicket fence.
Of all the England batsmen, Burns was the only one who seemed unperturbed while his time in the middle. His dismissal opened the gates for the West Indies.