Resolute fifties from Dom Sibley and Ben Stokes revived England from a situation of fluctuating fortunes on the first day of the second Test in Manchester. The duo batted throughout the third session keeping the West Indies bowlers at bay. Their innings was based on the obstinate approach of leaving anything outside the off stump that was bowled to lure them into a false drive.
Winning the toss after a 90-minute delay due to inclement weather, West Indies skipper, Jason Holder opted to bowl first despite the pitch being perceived as a batting track at first glance. The idea was to take advantage of the overcast conditions and England's brittle batting line-up which has delivered underpar returns in home Tests for quite a while.
The recipe was same as that of Southampton. Pitch the ball full, in the channel marginally outside the stumps and play with the patience of the England batsmen. The move worked to dismiss skipper, Joe Root who was out playing a loose drive edging the ball to Holder at second slip off Alzarri Joseph.
With Sibley and Stokes, however, the tried-and-tested method did not work. The bowlers kept pitching in the channel only to see the ball left alone to the wicketkeeper. While Sibley was caution-personified throughout his innings, Stokes batted with a mixed approach. He took only 5 runs from 83 balls he faced from Kemar Roach and Holder, the two pacers who lean on control. Against others, he scored 54 runs off 76 deliveries to release the pressure.
Stokes was particularly severe against the spinners. He accrued 29 runs off 32 deliveries against Roston Chase and Kraigg Braithwaite which also included the first six since the resumption of cricket. His approach took Chase out of the attack who had stifled England earlier in the day pouching the scalps of Rory Burns and Zak Crawley off consecutive deliveries.
Sibley offered no shot to 71 out of the 199 balls he faced from pacers (35.7 percent). He offered only one opportunity, an outside edge off Shannon Gabriel, which was spilled by Holder at second slip. Sibley was 68 then.
Quite fittingly, it was also the only moment for Gabriel to revive himself after a poor day at the office. Man-of-the-match in Southampton, Gabriel's first over was a reminder of Steve Harmison's curtain-raiser delivery in the 2006/07 Ashes which tested the second slip fielder instead of the batsman. Gabriel struggled all day bowling as many as four wides (including one which went for a four down the leg-side) and two no-balls. He also went off the field to get some treatment on his groin during the second session.
The afternoon session was the only period in the day's play when the visitors seemed penetrating. Their fightback, after a mixed first session, was led by Joseph who bowled a gripping spell of six overs for only 10 runs. More importantly, he dismissed Root. As mentioned above, he drew Root, predominantly a back foot player, into a false drive on the front foot inducing an outside edge. The England captain now averages only 28.5 on the front foot against pacers since 2018 as opposed to 55.1 on the back foot.
Earlier in the day, West Indies missed the most important ingredient of their victory in the first Test - discipline. A wayward beginning by Gabriel allowed Burns and Sibley to get their eye in. Consequently, Holder went for a double change only after three overs each for Roach and Gabriel. When a wicketless first session seemed evident, Chase turned up as an unlikely hero dismissing Burns and Crawley either side of lunch.
Facing an off-spinner in the 14th over of the innings, Burns inexplicably played for turn on a straight delivery. The ball slamming into his pads caught him plumb in front of the stumps.
The left-hander hesitantly went for a review only to aggravate the blow at the stroke of lunch. The Hawkeye said 'Hitting' resulting in England losing a review as well.
The first ball after lunch, Crawley flicked the ball to Holder at leg-slip.
With the inclusion of Sam Curran, Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad, three of the four changes in England's XI, the home side ensured they have players who can contribute with the bat throughout their line-up. Broad, expected to bat at 11, has a Test hundred to his name.
However, the omission of Jofra Archer hours before the Test led to some huge final minute changes in England's strategy.
Archer was found to have breached ECB's bio-secure protocols and will spend the duration of the Test match under isolation. Reports suggest he sneaked in a visit to his home in Brighton during England's travel day from Southampton to Manchester. The England management got to know about it only after naming him in their 13-man squad. With Anderson rested, Archer's omission is a blow to their chances of keeping the series alive as he was certain to be included in the XI.
West Indies, on the other hand, fielded an unchanged XI from the previous Test.