IT'S BEN STOKES' WORLD, WE ARE JUST LIVING IN IT!
Sit down, have a drink, and imagine having Benjamin Andrew Stokes in your team. The left-handed batsman scored over 42 percent of the team runs in the second Test. If that wasn't enough, the right-arm paceman also picked up three crucial wickets. And to know how committed he is on the field, watch the video of him sprinting all the way down to the long-off region to try to save a boundary off his own bowling. That was after he had bowled seven overs on the trot.
The top-ranked Test allrounder did everything, literally everything in the second match to propel England to a series-levelling win. The flamboyant allrounder played an uncharacteristic knock of 176 off 356 deliveries in the first innings and along with Dominic Sibley helped the home side amass 469/9 (decl) in their first innings. A washout on Day 3 forced England to accelerate from the word go in the second essay, Opening the innings, Stokes smashed a 57-ball 78*. In West Indies' fourth innings chase, Shamarh Brooks and Jermaine Blackwood formed a 100-run stand and England were running out of time, and it was once again Stokes who came to the rescue.
The allrounder had a phenomenal 2019. If the year 2019 was "phenomenal", 2020 has been even more "astonishing". In 2020, Stokes is the leading run-scorer and wicket-taker in Test cricket. Apart from these numbers, Stokes has the ability to rise to the occasion and get the job done. His presence, and the uplifting effect that he has on his team-mates is immense.
The second Test at Old Trafford might have gone down to the last hour but the Jason Holder-led side were no match to England. After outclassing England in Southampton, West Indies failed in both departments and allowed the home team to keep the series alive.
There was a lot of debate about Sibley's batting technique and his approach after the right-handed opener scored 120 off 372 deliveries in the second innings. There were things written about his "ugly stance" and "limited range of strokes" but the England team management understands what he brings to the table. England's batting is more or less looks sorted and it's highly doubtful they will make any changes in that department for the third Test, starting Friday (July 24).
The series decider will be played at the same venue and England will hope opener Rory Burns and skipper Joe Root get back to scoring ways. The likes of Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope haven't managed to hit the ground running, but it's Jos Buttler who will soon face the axe if he doesn't perform in the final Test. The wicketkeeper-batsman averages just 23 since the start of 2019 and the team management are starting to run out of patience. On a personal level, the third Test is going to be really important for Buttler.
ENGLAND: PROBLEM OF PLENTY
England however do have a problem of plenty in the pace department. The hosts have used two completely different fast bowling attacks in the first two Tests. While they played James Anderson, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood in the Southampton Test, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran got to feature in the second. Anderson was rested for the second game, while Archer was forced to miss the second Test for breaching the team's bio-secure protocols. All these six bowlers have done well in the past and it's not going to be easy for the team management to pick three.
Both Anderson and Archer will most likely be back in the playing XI and the battle for that one spot will be between Broad, Wood, Curran and Woakes. Broad was "angry and frustrated" after being dropped for the first Test and the senior paceman made a stunning comeback in the second Test by picking up six wickets. Meanwhile, Woakes has always done well in English conditions, while Curran has won all the eight Tests he has played in England since his debut. It's going to be cloudy in Manchester and one of the aforementioned three might get a go ahead of Wood.
WEST INDIES: FRAGILE TOP-ORDER
Meanwhile, West Indies would be extremely disappointed with the way things went down in the second Test. West Indies coach Phil Simmons has already raised concerns over John Campbell and Shai Hope's form and has suggested that West Indies will most probably make some changes in the top-order. The two batsmen have made only 52 and 57 runs respectively in four innings each in this series. Hope, who has been West Indies' go-to man in the ODI format, has made just 111 runs at 12.33 in his last ten Test innings.
Uncapped Nkrumah Bonner is the only back-up batsman in the main squad, but West Indies have the likes of Shayne Moseley and Joshua Da Silva in their reserves. Neither of these three have a great record in first-class cricket but the Caribbean side might be tempted to bring in Da Silva who made 189 unbeaten runs at the top of the order in the second intra-squad warm-up match at this very venue. Da Silva is a wicketkeeper-batsman but can also bat in the top-order. Meanwhile, Moseley is an opener, and there are high chances that these two might play ahead of Bonner who bats in the middle-order.
Kraigg Brathwaite, Brooks, Roston Chase, Blackwood and Shane Dowrich have hit eight half-centuries between them but haven't managed to convert these fifties into hundreds throughout the series. "It's something that we've been talking about a lot, and no one has taken up that opportunity in this game, yet again. It is disappointing. It's critical that our batsmen carry on and make big hundreds, because our bowlers have been doing their job," said Simmons.
As Simmons said, West Indies bowlers have been in top form in the last two-three years. Holder, Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and Alzarri Joseph were brilliant in the first Test but West Indies will have to manage their workload after they went with an unchanged XI for the second Test. Roach and Gabriel have bowled 80 and 69.5 overs respectively in the series so far, while Joseph has sent down 56.1 overs.
The visiting side have uncapped Chemar Holder and allrounder Raymon Reifer as backups, but offspinner Rahkeem Cornwall might be the one who will get a chance in the decider, especially after Chase picking up five wickets in the second match. The surface at Old Trafford will offer some assistance to spinners and the giant offspinner will bring freshness and variety into the West Indies bowling attack.
The next few hours aren't going to be easy for both team managements who will have to make a few tough calls to get their respective combinations right for the final Test. The focus is now no more on " the resumption of international cricket after a hiatus of 116 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic", as there is a series to be won and both teams will have to be at their absolute best if they want to emerge victorious and take the trophy home.
England: Rory Burns, Dominic Sibley, Zak Crawley, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Dominic Bess, Jofra Archer, James Anderson, Stuart Broad/Sam Curran.
West Indies: Kraigg Brathwaite, Joshua Da Silva, Shai Hope/Shayne Moseley, Shamarh Brooks, Roston Chase, Jermaine Blackwood, Shane Dowrich (wk), Jason Holder (c), Rahkeem Cornwall, Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel.