The Wisden Trophy 2020 got off to a great start for the visitors with West Indies winning the first Test at Southampton. West Indies stole the show with their vociferous support to the Black Lives Matter movement and a resolute chase in the 4th innings of the match to win. The Windies pace quartet drew comparison from their yesteryear heroes. The series that started with bang for West Indies fizzled with a soft whimper. They lost the subsequent two Test matches at Manchester, not able to negotiate the firepower of the English pace battery.
A series that will be remembered for splendid pace bowling, five bowlers managed to bag a fifer each. Amidst the four pacers who breathed fire, a sole spinner found his way – exploiting the forced conditions of not using saliva where the ball does a little - to get a five-wicket haul quite against the run of play.
Here is an analysis of the bowlers who made an impact in the series.
Stuart ‘Supreme’ Broad
Broad, whose exclusion in the first Test created more debate rather than their batting failure, made the most of his break. He finished as the highest wicket-taker of the series despite featuring in just two games. Broad stood out as the best, with an all-round ability to pick quick wickets, restrict the run-flow and create more wicket-taking opportunities (drawing false shots from batsmen).
Broad, in an interview with the broadcaster SKY SPORTS after he was benched in the first Test, had remarked, “The selectors know what I can do, and when I am back in the team, you can bet, I will be on the money”. Was he on the money! His strike-rate (balls per wicket) was the best of his career in any series.
Shannon ‘Unlucky’ Gabriel
Gabriel, the 32-year-old, was originally named as a travelling reserve recovering from an ankle surgery. He proved his fitness in the intra-squad match, thus earning a place in the playing XI and became the man of the match in Southampton. Gabriel created the most number of wicket-taking opportunities for a bowler in the 2020 Wisden Trophy (23% false shots) and finished the second-highest wicket-taker of the series. Gabriel’s ability to draw a false shot roughly once every 4 balls is excellent, but it has not been backed by the fielding ability of the West Indies, who have dropped 4 catches off his bowling in the series. All of these drops have been that of top-order batsmen (Ben Stokes twice, Dominic Sibley and Ollie Pope) at crucial times of the game.
Chris ‘Man of Manchester’ Woakes
Woakes has done very well for someone not in the scheme of things in the first Test. Woakes came into the series having some good bowling and batting numbers at Old Trafford. He began the series under the shadow of England’s supermen Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad. His patience paid off and he found his time in the English sun on Day 5 of the third Test match accounting for 5 wickets, as the Windies faded away meekly, trying to defend the Wisden Trophy.
Of fast bowlers in this series, Woakes emerged in the top list of bowlers who regularly beat the bat, and asked questions, though he quite was not able to find the edges of the bat to keep the slip cauldron busy enough.
Roston ‘Burns’ Chase
For someone who is not even the first choice off-spinner in the West Indies team, it’s remarkable that Chase has found himself in the top 5 wicket-takers in the series. Out of these top 5 bowlers his ability to draw false shots out of batsmen or to keep the run flow down has been the lowest, but he has done well to draw a wicket every 56 balls and increase his value to the side.
Chase has made Rory Burns his bunny accounting for his wicket 4 times in the series
Jason ‘Bowl First’ Holder
Holder has been in the news for the right and wrong reasons, in the series. The first Test was set up by Holder through his brilliant line and length, softening England and leading West Indies to a famous victory at the Ageas Bowl. The second and third Tests will be remembered for Holder’s decisions to ‘bowl first’ at Old Trafford twice. In the last 4 years, teams batting first have won all matches at Old Trafford. Holder’s misplaced trust in his bowlers probably came on the back of having overcast Manchester conditions. If they had chosen to bat first, Criclytics predicted that West Indies chances of a win would go up from 6% to 22% in the third test.
Irrespective of his and his team’s performance, Holder will be remembered for his leadership in bringing a few brave men across the Caribbean to restart a sport, in the middle of a pandemic.
Ben ‘Superman’ Stokes
England’s success in the last two summers is intertwined with Stokes’s performances – with his batting, bowling and fielding. His ability to win the game could never be over-emphasised than in the last couple of years. But for his niggle in the 3rd Test, this series was almost touted as Ben Stokes vs West Indies. Apart from his 9 wickets, the damage Stokes inflicted was more mental, beating the bat and drawing edges from the Caribbean blades in the first 2 Tests. His all round performance of 363 runs and 9 wickets earned him a place among some distinguished names in English cricket history. Among 28 instances of a player earning the double of 300 runs and 9 wickets, Stokes' batting and bowling average ranks at No 3.
Apart from these high performers, a few bowlers could not perform up to their potential. Alzarri Joseph and Mark Wood in seam and Dom Bess and Rakheem Cornwall in the spin department. In their defense, Wood and Cornwall played just one match each in the series. In the first Test Wood got a chance to play ahead of Broad because he bowls faster. Probably, in hindsight, the pressure weighed him down. He erred in finding the right length and pitched it too short where the predominantly back foot batsmen of West Indies found it easy to play. Alzarri Joseph had a forgettable tour where he struggled to find the line and length.
The saliva ban was an issue not just for seamers but also for spinners. Not all spinners can bowl with a new ball or a semi-new ball. Saliva also keeps one side heavy, which a spinner can exploit to their advantage. While Chase was good when bowling with the shine intact, Bess and Cornwall struggled in the series to pick wickets.