Cricket

England vs West Indies: Ben Stokes' brilliance, Windies' workload woes, where the Old Trafford Test was won and lost

  • Yash Jha
  • July 21st, 2020
  • 9:42:18 IST

For the second straight game, four days of play were enough to get a result – and provide an engaging encounter. For the second straight game, West Indies were batting as the clash approached its conclusion, on a final day that began, ostensibly, with all four results possible.

That’s about where the commonalities end, because most else about the second Test between England and West Indies at Manchester – match number two after cricket’s pandemic-enforced slumber – was diametrically opposite to what had transpired in the series opener at Southampton.

England kept their hopes of regaining the Wisden Trophy intact with a 113-run victory at Old Trafford to level the three-Test series at 1-1 and set up a decider at the same venue next week.

Let’s assess where the tie was decided.

Ben Stokes: The whole package

You fear the line may have been done to death with its gazillion repetitions on social media, but what do you do but concede: It really is Ben Stokes’ world, and we should be so glad we live in it.

At Old Trafford, Stokes entered the scene with his team in strife (surprise!) midway through the opening day. He batted till the last session of the next day, having compiled the slowest of his ten Test hundreds, a hundred featuring over a hundred leaves – the most by an English batsman. Having never faced more than 235 balls in a Test innings before, Stokes, even to his modest surprise, consumed 356 deliveries for his 176.

Two days later, in a period where his team struggled to trouble the West Indian batsmen, he bowled 11 overs on the bounce – bounce being an operative term, since that was what he shelled out nearly 75 percent of the time through the afternoon – and dislodged the visitors’ top-scorer, Kraigg Brathwaite.

Later that very day, he was back out as opener – helping him join an elite club of players to have occupied every position in the batting order in Tests – as the hosts searched for a rapid boost to enable a potentially match-winning declaration. Over the fourth evening and fifth morning, Stokes belted the fastest-ever Test 50 by an English opener to help set up that declaration.

A few hours later, ball in hand again, he once again rattled West Indies’ most well-set batsmen with a barrage of short-pitched bowling, and kicked open the door to a final-session triumph with the wicket of Jermaine Blackwood.

All told, 91 out of the 166 balls delivered by Stokes in the Test were bouncers, with his average speed (133 kmph) the second-highest among the eight pacers in action across the two camps; this in a game where he spent only 15 minutes short of 10 hours at the crease while batting.

He finished with 254 runs and a match haul of 3/59 in 27.4 overs. Only two players in Test history have managed to both score more runs and take more wickets in a match than Stokes.

Three balls before he bowled the bumper to take care of Blackwood and initiate England’s summit charge, he was running to the long-off boundary to prevent a four – off a ball he had delivered himself.

This, of course, is the same guy who did a few special things around this time last year as well.

“I’ll give everything to the team, whatever’s asked of me,” he said post-match.

He does what you want. He does what he wants. He does what you think. He does what you can’t think.

He is Ben Stokes. And we are fortunate!

Bench him if you can: Broad is back

At Southampton, England chose to enter a home Test without Stuart Broad for the first time since 2012. The 34-year-old was far from pleased.

“To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement… I’ve been frustrated, angry and gutted,” Broad told host broadcasters Sky Sports during the game at Ageas Bowl.

Stuart Broad took a total of six wickets on his return to the England side. AP

Stuart Broad took a total of six wickets on his return to the England side. AP

But the workload-management policy went in his favour this time around, and all that anger and frustration was channelled to perfection, even if not immediately.

Broad had sent down 18 wicketless overs with the first ball that England used, only getting to bowl on the fourth day of the Test. Then, with West Indies steady at 242/4 shortly after tea, the 139-Test veteran burst into life with the second new cherry.

Shamarh Brooks, Jermaine Blackwood and Shane Dowrich were all consumed in the space of three game-deciding overs. West Indies had hurtled down to 252/7, a collapse that they never recovered from.

Impressively, Broad wasn’t done – snaring the wickets of John Campbell, Shai Hope and Roston Chase with the first new ball in the second innings as England put the lights out on the visitors’ hopes.

The talk in the lead-up to the series-opener, some of which suggested Broad’s days in English colours may be numbered, fade in the gloss of his numbers: Since the end of a forgettable Ashes tour in 2017/18 (11 wickets in five Tests at 47.72), Broad has returned 92 wickets in 25 Tests at 24.22 – the third-most for any bowler in the time-period.

The Old Trafford haul takes him within nine strikes of 500 Test wickets. The Old Trafford bite suggests there may be a fair few more beyond that mark, too.

Woakes leads England’s problem of plenty

Returning into the XI, alongside Broad, was Chris Woakes – a bowler with nowhere close to the same volume of wickets, but whose impact with the red ball, especially at home, is violently underrated.

The 31-year-old made sure his senior partner’s fourth day burst was capitalised upon, picking up three wickets of his own in quick succession, including the crucial ones of Chase and Jason Holder. By adding the scalps of Brathwaite and Dowrich in the second, Woakes finished with more than creditable match figures of 5/76 from 37 overs.

It came in a game where he joined a prestigious club of players with 1000+ runs and 100+ wickets in Tests, but here’s the real clincher. 75 of Woakes’ 100 Test wickets have come in 20 Tests in England, at an average of 22.90 and a strike rate of 44.4 – since 1965, no English pacer with as many wickets has a better average at home; no bowler in English history has a better strike rate in capturing at least 75 wickets on home turf.

Jofra Archer’s pre-match indiscretion allowed Sam Curran a look in as well, and he, too, didn’t do his case any harm. After accounting for Campbell and Hope in the first innings, Curran prised the vital breakthrough of second-innings top-scorer Brooks to signal the end of all West Indian hopes. His ability with the bat, and the rough that his left-arm over action creates for Dom Bess to later exploit, present an adequate-enough case for Curran’s stay in the team to continue as well.

And then you have Archer and one James Anderson, both now well-rested after the duties at Southampton. You can see why the English think-tank will spend the next couple of days doing a lot of head-scratching.

Windies’ battery feels the workload

While not something they would necessarily envy, that’s just the kind of luxury that would make West Indies look behind their shoulder every now and then.

It’s not to say that they don’t have their back-ups, but Raymon Reifer’s vast first-class experience has so far translated into just one Test cap, and Chemar Holder, as a 22-year-old rookie, is unlikely to be a first-choice pick for a series-decider.

As for the quartet that has taken the field in both the games so far, this week at Manchester reflected the challenges of the return from lockdown.

West Indies’ captain Jason Holder decision to bowl first in the second Test backfired as the pacers struggled for wickets and fitness. AP

West Indies’ captain Jason Holder's decision to bowl first in the second Test backfired as the pacers struggled for wickets and fitness. AP

Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph and Jason Holder had together delivered 150 out of the 169 overs that West Indies bowled in the first Test, picking up 18 wickets between them, and in the absence of a lengthy gap between games, the weight in the legs and shoulders was visible – even given the brave attempt to paper it over with sheer heart.

The problem, though, is that heart alone doesn’t win Test matches; 133 overs between the four quicks only yielded six wickets at Old Trafford. That included a shellacking of sorts in the second innings as England forced the issue – only three Test innings of more than 15 overs have had a higher scoring rate than England’s 6.78 as they stretched their lead from 182 to 311.

You have to feel for Messrs Roach, Gabriel, Joseph and Holder – not least because Gabriel and Joseph see-sawed between on the field and off it through the first two days with varied niggles – especially given the spectacular lung-busting burst of theirs on the fourth evening at Southampton, without which West Indies were never securing the lead they brought with them to Manchester.

Did they lose it at the toss?

Holder was in vehement denial when asked the same after the game, but surely that thought would have pricked at him over the past five days.

Take in the context of that gallant Windies day four show at Ageas Bowl, in particular. All four quicks bowled at least 18 overs in the second innings – not with a great amount of assistance from the wicket – and each member of the quartet had sent down at least 31 overs in the first Test. Even counting the final day, which West Indies spent batting, the period of rest was still barely 96 hours before they were thrust into the thick of things on the opening morning at Manchester.

At the polar opposite were their opponents, who had an entirely new set of fast bowlers to operate with.

And even discounting any fatigue, Holder had opted for a rather risky bite at history: No captain had opted to bowl at Old Trafford in 19 Tests since 1993, and since 2010, no team had won a Test anywhere in England after putting the opposition in to bat and conceding more than 250.

Silent Sibley sets his stone

It happened, seemingly, ages ago in the context of all that the Test witnessed, but as quiet as Dom Sibley’s vigil on the first two days of the game may have been, you get the sense it will have reverberated in the English dressing room.

Dom Sibley scored 120 batting first in second Test off 372 deliveries. AP

Dom Sibley scored 120 batting first in second Test off 372 deliveries. AP

Not since one Alastair Cook walked away have they seen anything quite like the stonewall we saw here: indeed, only two knocks in England since 2013 have lasted longer than Sibley’s 372-ball epic (one of them, surprise surprise, belonged to Cook).

It was patience that belonged to a previous era, the likes of Cook and Che Pujara aside: Sibley took 312 balls to reach three figures – since 2000, only two English batsmen have taken more balls to reach a century. Sibley struck all of five boundaries in his 120 – only three Test centuries consuming more than 300 balls have seen fewer boundaries hit.

Yet, as Sibley and Stokes batted, and batted, and batted – their 568-ball stand the second-longest for an English pair since balls-faced data is available – you could see that this was no hard-ball for the 24-year-old. If anything, his eventual dismissal, more than nine hours of batting later, could be attributed to having to step out of his comfort zone, as England tried to up the ante.

Sibley was England’s quietest gain from this game. He might be their most significant one, too.

Updated Date: July 21, 2020 09:42:18 IST

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