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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.