I am willing to wager more than a few quid on a West Indies victory.
Only a handful of England’s actors (skipper Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad) remain on the 2020 set. But Jason Holder has no fewer than seven of his 2017 West Indians, including stand-out performers Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope, back in the current Old Trafford fray.
So I am willing to wager more than a few quid on a West Indies victory.
Perhaps Wired868 readers may expect me to steer clear of all wagers. At least, to put my mouth one place and my money somewhere else.
A few of them perhaps remember my meal of humble pie during the West Indies tour of England in 2017. I certainly recall it vividly. I have not forgotten—I shall perhaps never forget—what it feels like to have egg all over your face and the taste of Brylcreem in your mouth.
Still, more stubborn than a mule, I am willing to wager more than a few quid on a West Indies victory…
…in the First Test in Southampton last week.
With respect to the Old Trafford Second Test, as far as WI are concerned, a draw is the best we can do. A draw is all WI need to retain the Wisden Trophy. Which is precisely why the smart money is on an England win.
In post-play comments yesterday, Shamarh Brooks suggested that WI will decide whether or not to have a go at the target that England set them. With all due respect to Brooks, ha!
From 242 for 4 in the first innings, Holder’s side contrived to be all out for 287. And not a man can be said to have played an injudicious shot—although you can be sure that TV6’s Vinod Narwani will find some reason to include the description in his post-match report.
In Southampton, WI sealed their four-wicket win by posting a fourth innings total 200 off just over 64 overs. That target was reached largely on the back of Jermaine Blackwood’s 95. Off 154 balls!
The second largest contribution, Roston Chase’s 37, came off 88 balls. On a wicket that is not exactly a batsman’s paradise.
On the Old Trafford track on Day One and Day Two, Dom Sibley’s 120 came off 372 balls and Stokes consumed 356 balls in getting to his 176. Worse, on Day Four, the good length Broad ball that bowled Blackwood hit the lower half of the middle stump. Batting on Day Five will certainly not be easy.
Also worth noting is this: the Old Trafford target is already approaching 250. Unless skipper Holder’s captaincy is spot on and his bowlers all bring their A game, that target will probably be in the region of 300 by the end of the first hour.
So Brooks’ chaseable target is out of the question. Besides, which sensible leadership will think twice about chasing a target under circumstances in which a draw will suffice?
And Phil Simmons is nothing if not eminently sensible. One has only to look at how the culture of this outfit has already been transformed since he has assumed the coaching reins.
So what we shall see in the first session on Day Five may not quite be a repeat of the Queen’s Park Oval in March 1990 when Desmond Haynes made his debut as Test captain. England, for those who may have forgotten, needed to get 151 runs in about a session and a half to go 2-0 up in the series. They managed 120 for five in the 33 overs that the parsimonious stand-in WI skipper afforded them in that time.
Certainly Holder’s men will be instructed to bowl on one side of the wicket. Equally certainly the skipper will be in no hurry to set the careful fields he needs to match those instructions. The fieldsmen will also certainly be instructed to be in no hurry to retrieve any ball that happens to be smashed to or over the boundary ropes; the stands, remember, are empty.
With careful planning and successful execution, Holder can make it extremely difficult for England to reach their desired run target. He will thus force the declaration to be a time declaration—the innings not going past the over Root and co determine to be the last one they must face to leave themselves sufficient overs to try to dismiss the West Indian opposition.
Given what happened in the first innings—the last six WI batsmen fell for under 50 runs—Root and company will certainly want to leave themselves the option of a second new ball. Just in case. That means they need something above 85 of the day’s allotment of 98 overs. They, Root and Broad at least, are already confident that they will be able to damblay Sunday evening’s performance. If need be.
So the West Indian plan is simple. Bowl as tightly, as tidily and as unhurriedly as possible for an hour and then bat with maximum discipline until the cows come home…
…bringing, behind them, not just their tails but the Wisden Trophy and a baffled, broken-spirited British bookie.