The two teams that lined up for the first Test in Bridgetown have a massive difference in ranking. One is third in the world and within touching distance of top spot. The other is eighth and is nearly 50 points away from top of the ICC rankings. If you were new to the sport, you would have been forgiven for not knowing which side was which, as England, number three in the ICC rankings, crumbled to 77 all out.
This West Indies team has been underestimated by some ahead of the Test series, and if you had just been following them through scorecards and by checking on their recent results, that would be fair enough. Heavy defeats away to India and Bangladesh in recent months have been grim viewing for Caribbean cricket fans. But there has been evidence that in home conditions this side has started to look like it has Test match wins in them. A series win at home to Bangladesh and a drawn series with Sri Lanka was a decent start for a team that is coming of age.
Whereas in the recent past the best cricketers haven’t been available, that is starting to change. There is no Dwayne Bravo, but his brother Darren is in the team. Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard have been turning out for the white-ball teams in recent times, but none are really Test match players at this point in their careers.
The best young Caribbean talent, and there is a huge amount of that, are turning out for the Windies. Shai Hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Alzarri Joseph, Kraigg Brathwaite and Oshane Thomas are all in the Test match reckoning, and all of them can be match-winners. They are performing well domestically, either in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), the Super 50 or the Regional 4-day competition, and these tournaments appear to be doing a decent job of preparing players for international cricket. John Campbell, the 25-year-old Jamaican making his Test debut in this match, certainly did not seem out of place in terms of temperament or technique as he made 33 and 44.
Then there is their captain. Jason Holder is a towering presence in this side, both figuratively and literally. Averaging over 30 with the bat and under 30 with the ball, he has become a true Test match all-rounder, and the Barbados Test serves as the best example in this regard. Figures of 2/15 in England’s first innings, a career best 202 not out with the bat in the West Indies second innings, this may be the big man’s finest hour, but at the age of 27 he has a chance to have even better matches in the future.
This match was defined by the second and third days, and for very different reasons. On Day 2, 18 wickets fell for 219 runs as England were blown away by Holder and Kemar Roach (5/17). At one point the West Indies were 61/5 and England had a slim chance of bundling them out and having a total that was at least theoretically possible to chase down. A counter-attacking 31 from Hetmyer settled West Indian nerves, but he fell just before the close. Even after Hetmyer was dismissed, England were already 332 runs in arrears and the match was all but gone. Then Holder and Shane Dowrich took it away from them completely.
Holder made the third-highest score by a number eight batsman in Tests, and he and Dowrich (116 not out) made the third-highest seventh-wicket partnership in the history of the format as not a single wicket fell on the third day. To have a day where 343 runs were scored without a wicket falling after the carnage that happened the day before was really quite remarkable, and is yet another illustration of what a wonderfully silly game Test cricket can be.
What became very clear as the third innings of this match unfolded was that England had picked the wrong team. Stuart Broad should have played ahead of Adil Rashid, who had one of his worst Tests. Rashid sent down 28 wicketless overs that cost 117 runs, something that England neither expected nor needed from their leg-spinner.
When the West Indies declared, England needed 628 runs for victory, the kind of target that is piled on not because you feel the opposition can chase it but because you want to grind them into the dirt. There is a quick turnaround before the next Test in Antigua and England will still be licking their wounds. James Anderson and Ben Stokes got through a huge workload in this match and this could be telling as this series goes on.
When the end came, it wasn’t because of another pace-fueled batting collapse. Instead it was a slower death, with Roston Chase’s part-time off breaks claiming 8/60, the fourth-best figures by a West Indies spinner in Tests. This is a more ignominious effort from England than the 77 all out, even if they made 246 all out this time. Any team can be caught up in a panic-induced collapse in the face of fine bowling. To capitulate to a spinner who hardly turned a ball says a lot about how low England’s morale was at the end of this absolute hammering. The 381-run win is the second-biggest Windies have ever had against England in terms of runs.
There was only one side in this match, and it wasn’t the one that was ranked third in the world.