It was the most important day of the series. West Indies, having shown buoyant efforts throughout the series needed just one more day of resilience to keep the Wisden Trophy. It was England who had to push for a victory with, what many experts described, an outside chance to win the Test.
While cricket fans had their eyes set on an interesting day’s play, Jason Holder’s men were surprisingly absent from the field, mentally that is. The visitors looked too flat to compete. It was evident from John Campbell dropping a sitter of Ben Stokes in the morning session. The bowlers did not seem prepare to tackle England’s search for quick runs. The top-order surrendered against the new ball again. Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope lingered on the back foot. Roston Chase did not bother to review a close lbw call against him.
England, on the other hand, came out prepared. They had the answers to convert an outside chance into something concrete. They had plans and they had the energy to execute them to perfection.
Their roaring comeback into the game was governed by Stuart Broad’s terrific spell with the second new ball yesterday. Broad made a conscious effort to pitch the ball fuller and West Indies were barely able to save the follow-on.
The same strategy was followed today. Broad, along with Chris Woakes rattled the West Indies’ top order leaving the visitors reeling at 27 for three at lunch.
Before the second new ball yesterday, Broad had pitched only 53.3 percent of his deliveries in the full and good length area. He went for 60 runs without any wickets. Post the second new nut, he pitched 83 percent of his deliveries in that area; picking six for 49.
While the English pacers adjusted their length, Brathwaite and Hope refused to come out of their comfort zone. Both of them were out playing back to deliveries that could have been tackled better if confronted on the front foot. Campbell, the torch-bearer of West Indies’ shoddy approach today was already out in the first over playing a loose drive to Broad.
The fifth wicket partnership between Shamarh Brooks and Jermaine Blackwood was the only phase when the Caribbean side showed will to fight.
Chips were down but the conditions had settled in for batting. While Brooks proceeded in his solid manner, Blackwood was quite adventurous in the beginning. He struck three boundaries in an over to Curran, the first of which was an upper cut played over the slips with the last one a lofted drive over mid-off, the same stroke which brought his downfall twice in the preceding Test. But he soon went back to the method which enabled him to record a match-winning 95 in Southampton - playing each ball on the merit.
Two free-flowing batsmen, they collected runs at an impressive rate of 3.6 runs-per-over. Both were severe on the off-spinner, Dom Bess who was taken for 75 runs in the second session at 4.2 runs-per-over.
Frustrated and desperate for wicket, England employed the short ball strategy again asking Stokes to hit the deck from round-the-wicket angle. Brooks was up against it for the second time in two days but it was Blackwood's first experience of tackling a line that would constantly attack his ribs. He eventually, fended one in the last over before tea to Buttler who dived to complete the catch. The dismissal left West Indies’ hopes hanging by a thread.
In another lacklustre move, West Indies did not make a vital change in their batting line-up. Shane Dowrich has struggled against pace on the tour - 24.4 percent false shots, the second highest amongst the proper Caribbean batsmen on the tour. Considering Dowrich’s short stature and the continued short-ball barrage from Stokes, a self-promotion in the batting order by the two-metre tall skipper Jason Holder could have lent the much needed support to Brooks. Dowrich was sent back for a duck.
The fall of wickets never stopped after that. Brooks and Holder batted together for 12 overs. There were further 30 overs left in the day’s play when Sam Curran conquered the inside edge of Brooks’ bat hitting his pads in front of the stumps. Adjudged out by the umpire, Brooks did not send the question upstairs, even with all three reviews remaining.
His departure for 62 was the end of West Indies’ fight. They were eventually bundled out for 198 within 71 overs; 14 overs short of their target. Each of England’s five frontline bowlers contributed. Broad had three. Woakes, Stokes, Bess snaffled two each and Curran pouched the important scalp of Brooks.
Earlier, England began Day 5 with the bat in emphatic manner. Answering England’s call for quick runs, Stokes began with a four and a sailing six in the first over against Kemar Roach. Irrespective of the bowler, the pace, the variation and the spread out field, the all-rounder marked his dominance all around the field. Holder tried to disturb him with tactical reviews concerned with wasting time to bowling down the leg side. However, nothing worked against Stokes.
After crawling to his slowest Test hundred as yet (255 balls) in the first innings, he raced to his second fastest Test fifty in the second remaining unbeaten on 78 off 57 balls. His knock included four fours and three sixes.
Thanks to the drop catch by Campbell, England pummelled 92 runs in 11 overs allowing Joe Root to declare with ample time in hand.
Scoring over 250 runs and taking more than two wickets in the Test - an unprecedented effort by an England cricketer - Stokes was awarded with the man of the match awarded.
In another astounding Ben Stokes’ moment in the match, the all-rounder ran to the vacant long-off region off his own bowling to save a boundary. It was the eighth consecutive over of his spell. Blackwood and Brooks had ran four anyway but Stokes’ sprint displayed that the big man never gets tired. Three balls later, he dismissed Blackwood with a rising short-ball , thus beginning the end for West Indies.