It’s happening again, you know. England’s impressively woeful record in the Caribbean is in serious danger of another four-year extension, after one of the most outstanding team performances ever put together in West Indies’ long and illustrious history.
It’s not often that a spell of 5 for 4 in 27 balls can be overshadowed in the final analysis of a glorious Test win. But such was West Indies’ collective brilliance in Barbados that Kemar Roach‘s finest hour was only the third-most stunning statistical feat of the game, behind Jason Holder’s wonderful double-hundred and Roston Chase‘s web-weaving eight-for in the fourth innings.
Throw in the gut-busting efforts of Shimron Hetmyer (whose first-innings 81 was arguably – arguably! – the most agenda-setting performance of the match), Shane Dowrich’s share of a record-breaking 295-run stand on that incredible third day, and some brilliant but under-rewarded old-school fast bowling from Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph in particular, and the net result was a performance that England – in a glorious, throwback-to-the-1980s fashion – simply found too hot to handle.
Make no mistake: even allowing for the shifting sands of the Test game, and the increasing propensity for teams, of all nationality, to fold like badly-erected beach umbrellas when the pressure is cranked up and the prospect of salvation is lost, this was a battering – with bat and ball – that could hardly have been bettered by Viv Richards and Malcolm Marshall, or Brian Lara and Curtly Ambrose.
From an England perspective, the Barbados post-mortem zeroed in on two key shortcomings. The selection of the wrong team, with Sam Curran’s inclusion ahead of Stuart Broad and Adil Rashid’s anonymity as the second spinner, left them toothless at crucial moments of both innings, most spectacularly when Holder and Dowrich started teeing off in the second.
But pitch mis-readings can happen. The less-forgivable shortcoming was England’s fatuous, almost blasé, attitude to their tour match at the 3Ws Oval. CWI had hoped for a proper four-day contest, not least to justify pulling so many players out of domestic competition. Instead, England insisted on two two-day warm-ups, glorified nets sessions against opponents who were visibly less than thrilled to be used in such a capacity. It provided, you suspect, further fuel to West Indies’ fire when it came to the main event.
England will not make either mistake again. Broad, with his shorter, Richard Hadlee-inspired run-up, is sure to play at Antigua, while England are sure to have the match readiness for this second Test that they so palpably lacked for the first. But having blinked first in a three-Test series – and let’s face it, it was more of a bout of narcolepsy than a momentary nodding-off at the wheel – England face a massive challenge to get their series expectations back on course.
For starters, there’s the Antigua factor – an island synonymous with some of West Indies’ most towering feats in the past, particularly against England. From Richards’ 56-ball hundred to Lara’s twin world records, and more recently to a pair of epic rearguards in 2009 and 2015, it’s an island where England have never yet tasted victory.
Admittedly, the actual venue has shifted in recent years from the legendary ARG to the less-storied stadium in North Sound, and there has to be a first time for everything. But if West Indies can come close to matching the intensity they displayed in Barbados, it will be a challenge for England simply to stay with them, let alone better them.
But whatever transpires, this series has already confounded expectations, and revived memories of past West Indian glories that, all too often in a troubled couple of decades, have threatened to consume rather than inspire their current and coming generations. Barbados was a performance around which the whole of the Caribbean was proud to rally. Bring on the next instalment.
West Indies WLLLL (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
How does any player follow up a performance quite like that, let alone a young captain who is, at long last, starting to get the respect his talent and dignity have earned? Jason Holder produced a Test match for the ages in Barbados, smoking a quite brilliant double-century – his first in front of his home fans – while bowling with brilliant, understated control, and marshaling his resources with a deft touch. In the course of his endeavours, he rose to become the No.1 allrounder in Test cricket – West Indies’ first such incumbent since the matchless Garry Sobers. His challenge this week is to lift his side to do it all again, and secure a series win that Sobers himself would have been proud to play a part in.
England confirmed on match eve that Joe Denly will complete a remarkable journey to Test recognition – one that stalled way back in February 2010 but was unexpectedly revived in a Man-of-the-Match display of legspin in a one-off T20I in Sri Lanka before Christmas. At the age of 32 and 321 days, he will be the batsman to debut for England since Allan Wells in 1995 (not that he’d want to emulate that particular England career…) Opening the innings will be a stiff challenge for Denly, whose return to recognition stemmed from his middle-order contributions for Kent over the last two summers. But he’ll have streets of experience to fall back on, and who knows, his wristspin might be a handy option for Joe Root too.
Why change a winning formula? Assuming there are no lingering fitness worries from Barbados, then West Indies are set to name an unchanged XI. That said, Gabriel was troubled by a bruised toe during the second innings at Bridgetown, while Joseph has been prone to back stiffness on his return from a stress fracture. Dowrich, who handed the wicketkeeping duties over to Shai Hope after picking up a niggle during his batting heroics, is fully recovered and ready to resume his role.
West Indies (probable): 1 Kraigg Brathwaite, 2 John Campbell, 3 Shai Hope, 4 Darren Bravo, 5 Roston Chase, 6 Shimron Hetmyer, 7 Shane Dowrich (wk), 8 Jason Holder (capt), 9 Kemar Roach, 10 Alzarri Joseph, 11 Shannon Gabriel
Keaton Jennings has paid the price for his terrible display in the first Test, with Denly to make his Test debut, almost ten years on from his first appearance in England’s one-day set-up. Broad is also slated for a comeback, with England seemingly committed to a solitary spinner this time around – Adil Rashid has been left out of a 12-man squad, with Jack Leach coming into contention. Moeen Ali’s bowling was scarcely any more economical than Rashid’s in Bridgetown, while his pair spoke of a batsman whose form has fallen off a cliff, and Leach is an option who is sure to provide control. Ben Foakes was fearing for his place after a double failure in Bridgetown, but both he and Sam Curran have credit in the bank after their first taste of defeat in an England shirt.
England (possible): 1 Rory Burns, 2 Joe Denly, 3 Jonny Bairstow, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler, 7 Ben Foakes (wk), 8 Sam Curran, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Jack Leach, 11 James Anderson
Pitch and conditions
Two days out from the Test, there was still a fair amount of live grass on the wicket, but with a bit of a haircut and another day of Caribbean heat, it ought to be a fairly dry surface come Thursday morning. It might prove to be a touch quicker than in 2015 but in essence, it is a good batting wicket.
Stats and trivia
- England need to win this Test to have any hope of improving a woeful series record in the Caribbean, in which they have won a solitary series (in 2004) in their last nine attempts since 1968.
- After his scores of 4 and 22, Root’s Test average has dipped below 50 for the first time since August 2014, when he scored an unbeaten 149 against India at The Oval.
- If they are reunited with the new ball, James Anderson (570) and Broad (433) will become only the third bowling partnership to take the field with a combined 1000 Test wickets behind them, after Glenn McGrath (563) and Shane Warne (708), and Muttiah Muralitharan (800) and Chaminda Vaas (355).
- Ben Stokes passed 3000 runs at Bridgetown, making him the fifth England allrounder to complete the 3000 runs and 100 wickets double, behind Ian Botham, Tony Greig, Andrew Flintoff and Broad.