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Best: Will West Indies keel over and die? Holder to the rescue against Root’s rampant England

Conventional wisdom holds that Stuart Broad’s Sunday evening new ball spell killed off the West Indies chances in the Second Test at Old Trafford. The truth, however, is that, had Jason Holder been at the top of his game on Monday morning, he might have found a pulse where the cricketing world thought there was none.

In the event, skipper Holder and coach Phil Simmons are not the ones smiling today in the wake of Monday’s finale.

Photo: England captain Joe Root (left) has a word with star all-rounder Ben Stokes.
(via SkySports)

Unexpectedly buffeted by the North East Trades in Southampton last week, England’s ship finally came in on the weekend. And the cock-a-hoop English media are now quite certain that, with the wind finally in their sails, Joe Root’s men will go on to crush Holder’s mercilessly in the second Old Trafford encounter starting on Friday.

But it would be premature to write any one-sided obituaries for the West Indies tour of England 2020. It is true that the Caribbean players and fans had the smiles wiped off their faces. There is, however, still fire in Babylon.

And so, I doubt that Simmons, Holder and company are making plans for any sort of interment next week.

“Over my dead body,” I imagine the never-say-die coach saying to his crestfallen troops on Monday evening. “Not that they can’t take the Wisden from us. But we have to make them wrest it from us; we’re not going to hand it to them.”

Unrealistic? Perhaps. But not in my view.

To general agreement, both Simmons and Holder identified the critical moment at which the match was lost in their post-match comments Sunday evening. It really was not a particularly helpful observation; it seemed like a self-evident truth. Any team, let alone a Test team, which loses six wickets for 40 or 50 runs can hardly be proud of itself.

Photo: West Indies captain Jason Holder (centre) leads his teammates off the field after England declared during the second day of the second Test match at Old Trafford in Manchester on Friday 17 July 2020.
(Copyright Michael Steele/Pool via AP)

A ‘disappointed’ Holder blamed the batsmen. He lamented that ‘England’s bowlers challenged our batters consistently; but too many of our batters got caught on the crease’.

He was, I think, much closer to the truth when he noted that: “We’ve got to understand scenarios better. It’s just about getting through those tough spells.”

Playing his cards close to his chest, Simmons’ public stance was that, had the West Indies not started their innings so badly and ‘batted normally’ until tea-time, they might have found themselves in a position to pull off a win in the final session. With the Third Test in mind, astutely, he was trying to build up his batsmen’s battered confidence.

I do not, however, for one minute believe that was his stance in private. In the privacy of the dressing-room, players need to hear the whole truth.

That truth is that the fate of the Test, heavily influenced by Sunday evening’s ‘tough spell’ against the new ball, was sealed in Monday morning’s ‘tough spell’ with the new ball in hand. The experts all agree, let us not forget, that the West Indian strength is their bowling.

Photo: England all-rounder Ben Stokes (right) celebrates a West Indies scalp during the Second Test at Old Trafford.

One can hardly blame the skipper for John Campbell’s failure to hold on to that vital catch out on the boundary off Shannon Gabriel. But in the end it was Man-of-the-Match Ben Stokes who showed the ICC Number One all-rounder who’s the boss.

And took the game completely away from the tourists.

“Perfect morning for England,” said Nasser Hussain as England strutted off the field with WI needing 312 to win the Test or survive for 85 overs to retain the Wisden Trophy.

An hour later, as the players left the field for lunch, no reminders were necessary—the body language said it all. Shamarh Brooks and Roston Chase trudged disconsolately off, the huge weight of responsibility almost visible on their shoulders.

In stark contrast, Stuart Broad, who had claimed two scalps, and Chris Woakes, who had accounted for the so-far-defiant Kraigg Brathwaite, had a spring in their step as did their nine England teammates.

Watching on TV, West Indies fans had just heard dispiriting news from David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd: whereas England’s top six have 35 centuries between them, their West Indian counterparts have a mere 17.

Photo: West Indies batsman Jermaine Blackwood makes a shot during the fifth day of the first Test match against England at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton on Sunday 12 July 2020.
(Copyright Adrian Dennis/Pool via AP)

Brathwaite, Shai Hope and Chase, he declined to mention, account for 15 of these! Nor did he say that each of number seven, Shane Dowrich, and number eight, Holder, has three 100’s to his name. Or that, in Barbados in 2019, that pair had together put on 295 against England, the skipper getting an unbeaten double-century and the wicketkeeper 116.

Any such talk would only have been a red herring. Run-scoring heroics were unnecessary; graft and occupation would suffice.

It is the assessment I offered on Sunday evening:

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.

(Holder men’s must) Bowl as tightly, as tidily and as unhurriedly as possible for an hour…
Too late for that already! Thanks to Stokes—and Campbell!—England had declared after an hour with the target 312, having scored no fewer than 90 runs off just 11 overs.

Photo: West Indies captain Jason Holder reacts during action in the second day of the second Test match against England at Old Trafford in Manchester on Friday 17 July 2020.
(Copyright AP Photo/Jon Super, Pool)

The psychological damage done in those 60 minutes is what Simmons—and perhaps Holder—was attempting to offset in his post-match interview. And which, I have little doubt, he will continue to address in the three rest days granted by the tight schedule.

…and then bat with maximum discipline until the cows come home…

There was discipline, lots of it! But England had a clear plan. The stubborn Brathwaite and Hope were both gone before lunch and the short stuff from round the wicket eventually accounted for the uncharacteristically resolute Jermaine Blackwood on the stroke of tea.

Holder adjusted his technique to counter the pacers and fought the good fight against the quick stuff. Perhaps he relaxed a little against the off-spinner and lost his middle stump.

And that really was that. Until Friday.

I don’t see how Campbell (52 runs in four innings) can retain a place in the XI for Friday. Hope’s stats (57 runs in four inns) are no better but it would be a mistake, I submit, to leave him out. Maybe Holder might consider tinkering with the batting order.

Photo: West Indies batsman Shai Hope is bowled out by England’s Stuart Broad during the last day of the second Test match at Old Trafford, Manchester on Monday 20 July 2020.
(Copyright Michael Steele/Pool via AP)

Gabriel (9 wickets at 28.77 runs each) is manifestly not 100% fit. Playing back-to-back Tests with only three days between them has clearly taken its toll on him. Holder says that ‘going into this last game, we’re going to give it our all’. Gabriel already has.

It has to be noted that Stokes is now joint third with, in Don Lee’s words, ‘Mannus Laboochaney’ in the Top Batsman rankings. And he has moved above Holder into the Number One all-rounder’s slot. The West Indies captain would not have to failed to notice as much.

If only for that reason, the Wisden Trophy has a good chance of coming back to the Caribbean.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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4 comments

  1. Shai Hope has to be left out. He cannot continue to hold a place based on performances in one test match 3 years ago. His average after 30 odd tests is 26 and it drops to 22 if you remove Headingley. Hope is a less than average Test batsman, who for whatever reason is getting an abnormally long run in a team that despite its dearth of batting depth in reserves can do better than keep him. It cannot also help Hope’s own confidence to be kept and continuing to perform so poorly.

    • Earl Best

      The alternative, sir? With whom will you replace him?

      Or, if you prefer an immediately recognisable phrasing, who we go put?

      And do you really think the numbers tell the whole story? The numbers say that Jason Holder was the best allrounder in the world up to last Monday… I watched every ball of the Second Test; forgive me for my scepticism.

      • The name that immediately comes to mind is Joshua Da Silva. He is there with the squad and he had a decent 1st class season this past year where he averaged 50. Sunil Ambris is also there in the reserve squad. They both can do no worse than Shai Hope.

        • Earl Best

          Two things: (1) I don’t agree, as you know, but I am willing to hear a case for Ambris. However, ell me honestly, if the roles were reversed and the Trinidadian were on the team and struggling for runs and the Bajan were the pretender to his place, would you take the same poisition.

          (2) Are you really prepared to select a player who “can do no worse” in place of a player whose class is not in dispute but whose form is dodgy?
          I’m glad you’re not a West Indies selector.

          But we shall know in a day or two whether Messrs Simmons and Holder agree with you…

          …or with me.