Despite another first-innings failure for England’s batsmen in Antigua, Jonny Bairstow believes his side have every chance of fighting back as the second Test develops, thanks to an awkward patch of grass – just short of a good length – that he feels was responsible for a number of England’s dismissals on a hard-fought opening day.
Bairstow was one of the few players to seemed to have the measure of the conditions as he compiled a battling half-century from No. 3. However, his dismissal in the first over after lunch left the lower order in the hands of Moeen Ali and Ben Foakes, whose 85-run stand for the seventh wicket helped ensure a partial recovery from 93 for 6 to 187 all out.
Throughout the day, England were given a torrid test of their mettle after losing the toss and being asked to bat first. Joe Root received an unplayable brute of a delivery that took off from that awkward length to dismiss him for 7, while Moeen also seemed to receive one that kicked into the splice as he miscued a drive to midwicket for 60.
Ben Stokes was rapped a painful blow on the hands during his battling innings of 14, while Bairstow finished the day as England’s stand-in wicketkeeper, after Ben Foakes was also hit on the gloves in the course of his dismissal to a Shannon Gabriel short ball. Foakes did not take the field as West Indies reached 30 for 0 in 21 overs before the close, and may go for an X-ray in the morning after receiving ice treatment.
“It was tough,” Bairstow told Sky Sports. “I don’t think you ever felt in. You always knew there was one that might bounce or keep low, especially when they’ve got three guys [Gabriel, Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph] who are well over six foot. They made us make decisions on a pitch that was bowler-friendly, certainly in the first couple of sessions.
“If you look at the pitch, there’s two different grass types,” Bairstow added. “From where the balls were bouncing, there was either a ridge there or something to do with the grass, but unfortunately a few dismissals came from balls that made us play certain shots.”
Bairstow’s response was a reprisal of England’s tactics during the Sri Lanka series before Christmas, when England responded to the spin-dominant conditions by taking a positive mindset and putting their runs on the board whenever the opportunity arose.
It was an intelligently compiled innings, and one that showcased a tighter technique than had been the case at times last summer, when his tendency to stay leg-side of the ball had resulted in a few loose dismissals on the drive.
“For me, if it was outside off, I would leave it alone unless it was short, then I’d throw the kitchen sink at it, to be honest!” Bairstow said. “And I’d wait for the one that was a bit too full, and try not to hit it too hard when I was driving, that was something I tried to concentrate on.
“Previously, I’d gone a bit hard at the ball, but I’ve worked on my defensive game a bit more. I think it’s a case of understanding the situation you are coming in at. When I was coming in at No. 6 or 7, it was against a slightly older ball and guys who’ve bowled 10-12 overs. But at three, they’ve potentially got a new ball in hand, and are in their first spells. They are fresh, the pitch is fresh, so you’ve got to take account of that, what the ball’s doing, and the overhead conditions.”
In the field, Bairstow said that he had been given about “eight minutes” warning that he would be reclaiming the gloves in Foakes’ absence, but after a few early fumbles, he settled into the role once more.
“It’s difficult, but it’s like riding a bike, once you catch a few, you’re straight back into the rhythm. With the wind from the far end, a few wobbled, but we had a laugh and a joke, and I tripped over my feet a few times. But you’ve got to enjoy it, and hopefully Foakesy is fit tomorrow.
“Tomorrow will be interesting,” he said. “I thought we bowled really well tonight, and were unlucky not to get a few nicks. The boys put the ball in the right areas, and to only be 30 off 21 overs is a testament to that fact. The ball went past the bat many, many times and on another day you’d nick a few.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @miller_cricket
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