Cricket couldn’t have hoped for a better return. Some fiery bowling spells, excellent dogged batting and a match that went down to the final session on day five. The result would have taken a few aback too as West Indies pulled one past the hosts to go 1-0 ahead in the series. With the hosts suddenly on the back-foot, the series has taken a competitive turn and there’s something to look forward to. Here we pull out the takeaways for either team from the first Test at Ageas Bowl.
Three premier batsmen who came under scrutiny in the first Test are Shai Hope, Joe Denly and Jos Buttler. Hope, often identified as the lynchpin of the West Indies batting line-up, more so on the basis of talent than anything else, has failed miserably since his last Test century against England in 2017. He has had a string of low scores since then with him not crossing thr half-century mark in his last 10 innings.
SHAI HOPE, JOE DENLY, JOS BUTTLER UNDER THE SCANNER
Denly is criticised for being super slow in his approach and while he has an authoritative pull shot and appears solid, the returns have been few and far between. With Zak Crawley making an impression, Denly could make way for Joe Root once he returns.
Jos Buttler is a queer case. The wicket-keeper batsman has been a mainstay in the Test side since Ed Smith took over as selector. But in 42 Tests, he has just one Test hundred and the case for him, over someone like Ben Foakes who was unceremoniously dumped, is falling apart.
JOFRA ARCHER CAN BOWL ALRIGHT
The exchange of tweets between former West Indies pacer Tino Best and Jofra Archer in the midst of the Test match garnered much attention. Archer, who had gone wicketless in the first innings, found his mojo back and had Windies reeling at one point in the second innings with his accuracy, pace and bounce. He was relentless with the new ball and returned to break the big Jermaine Blackwood – Roston Chase partnership. Questions hovering around Archer can stay put with the Sussex pacer yet again showing why he is world-class. After all, before the Test, Stuart Broad had clearly conveyed that Archer was the first-choice seamer. That’s unlikely to change in the next few years.
THE AGGRESSIVE WEST INDIES’ PACE ATTACK
There’s no doubting West Indies’ pace attack. Coming into this series, their pace bowlers had a combined average next only to India in the last two years. Jason Holder, Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach pack a punch. Add in Alzarri Joseph and you have a world-class bowling attack that can thrive across conditions.
At Ageas Bowl, they showed they can hunt with the new and old ball equally well. Perseverance in attack and holding onto their plans long enough served West Indies well and this would certainly not be the last time we will have said about this bowling attack this series. England’s batters have bigger worries up their sleeves considering their own inadequacies against the moving ball.
JOE ROOT’S RETURN AND BEN STOKES’ CAPTAINCY
Given the captaincy of the side Ben Stokes stepped up as a player. He was useful with the bat in a crisis yet again and turned up with the ball in that final day. Yet, in that final mayhem, it felt like Stokes was missing a trick when Chase and Blackwood went about resurrecting the innings. That he underbowled himself aside, his usage of Dom Bess – the primary spinner – on a day five wicket will invite questions. The 22-year old Bess bowled just 10 overs on day 5 and it seemed like Stokes did not quite trust the young spinner.
Root’s return will relieve Stokes of captaincy duties and it might well be that this little experiment showed England he isn’t one to lead the side in the future either. That said, Stokes wasn’t entirely poor and his mature handling of questions surrounding Stuart Broad after the Tests suggests he could mellow down and become a leader later in his career. For now, though, England sorely need Stokes the match-winner and Root’s return will facilitate that.
Jermaine Blackwood will remain an enigma even after his breathtaking knock on day five at Ageas Bowl. In the first innings he was dismissed playing a horrible shot and a comeback from that seemed nigh impossible until he not only bailed Windies out of trouble from 27 for 3 but also brought them to the brink of a historic win.
LEAVE JERMAINE BLACKWOOD ALONE
Blackwood is not reliable yet and had England taken their chances, he may not even have played the next Test. But in a batting line-up where there are glaring follies, Blackwood’s presence is a much-needed one. He may not win them too many games but as long as he is not doing any worse than the rest, might as well wait for him to produce something as special. Going by his new-found mantra, the frequency of that could be on the upswing.