Test cricket is dead, long live Test cricket. It seems, as ever, that reports of the sport’s demise might well have been slightly exaggerated.
Less than a week after they were lambasted following their thorough humiliation at Edgbaston, a defeat that raised questions of introducing two-division Test cricket, the West Indies have come roaring back to the party with a totally unexpected and thrilling victory.
After an extended run of Test matches in England that have been all too one-sided, Headingley delivered a gripping five-day spectacular — a contest that swung rivetingly back and forth in the way that only Test match cricket can.
This was in fact a game the West Indies could and perhaps should have won far more easily, a spree of dropped catches repeatedly let England off the hook, to the extent that despite finishing with a 169-run first innings lead at lunch on day three, just before the end of day four the Windies were staring down the barrel of another heavy defeat.
The fact that they not only avoided that fate but fought back to claim a surprise victory showed depths of resolve that not many thought this side had, particularly following their chastening day-night defeat in Birmingham.
This was a win that was almost founded on the back of a much improved bowling performance, the returning Shannon Gabriel combining well with Kemar Roach to ensure England’s first innings ended at 258 all out — a figure that could have been much lower with England’s only significant runscorers, Joe Root and Ben Stokes, both dropped early on in their innings. Had those chances been held, the West Indies might well have won inside three days.
Fortunately for the tourists, ultimately they did not pay for those mistakes, instead twice producing two excellent and, after Edgbaston, wholly unexpected batting performances.
Their box-office smash performance had two leading men in Shai Hope and the eccentrically-spelled Kraigg Brathwaite, with Jermaine Blackwood picking up an award for his best-supporting role.
Victory was built on the back of two superb partnerships between Brathwaite and Hope, the pair both recording hundreds in a 246-run stand in the first innings, before combining once again in the second to make 144 runs together.
Brathwaite, out for 95 second time around, fell agonisingly short of amazingly becoming the first man in Headingley’s history to make a century in both innings — a feat Hope would manage later on, his superb 118 not out, seeing the West Indies home under floodlights in ever-increasing Yorkshire gloom.
Blackwood provided able support in both innings, his free-wheeling style almost impossible not to enjoy, and supremely handy at injecting some much needed chutzpah into the West Indies batting card. His not-going-to-die-wondering attitude was something for the West Indies to finally rally around and epitomised the brilliance of this battling win.
However it was Brathwaite and Hope who did the hard yards for the tourists, the duo not so much a thorn in England’s side as an entire patch of brambles, their much-vaunted attack powerless to prevent anything but a rousing West Indies win.
Root’s men ultimately were comprehensively outplayed, and go to Lord’s with a few questions of their own to now answer. Tom Westley has continued to struggle at number three and might well be sweating on his place for the final Test, while Dawid Malan still does not totally convince at number five, despite his innings of 61 — which was so scratchy it was difficult to watch at times.
They too like the West Indies were guilty of some costly dropped catches in a Test match not high on fielding quality, and will be as surprised as any that their opposition fought back so convincingly to level the series.
The end result is a series that looked uncomfortably one-sided is now delightfully up in the air, and five days ago nobody would have predicted that. This is not one of the great West Indies sides of yesteryear so wistfully remembered by commentators and armchair pundits alike, but as this match has proved they are also not the team totally devoid of hope that Edgbaston suggested – the West Indies, much like Test cricket are not dead yet.