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Best: Will resentment ruin redemption time for Holder’s men against ‘relentless’ England? 

‘Resentful,’ yes. Try as I might, however, nowhere in the dictionary could I find ‘relentfull’ or ‘relentful.’

But if I were West Indies coach Phillip Simmons, I would have minted one or the other word to use in my post-match comments on the third day of the decisive Third Test at Emirates Old Trafford.

I certainly would not have let that ‘relentless’ compliment stand so starkly in the middle of my assessment, uncounterbalanced by some accolade for my under-pressure batsmen.

Photo: West Indies cricket coach Phil Simmons.

“We showed in the first innings of the Second Test,” the well-intentioned coach said, after his team’s struggle to stay afloat on Sunday, “that… we were doing what was necessary, we were getting scores. We got a few fifties, but you’ve got to carry on. And these guys keep coming and they’re relentless.” (my emphasis)

Going on to call England ‘one of the most difficult places to bat, especially against these two experienced bowlers’, the former WI opener made it sound suspiciously as if he was offering an ex-ante explanation for the WI’s defeat.

It was, my instincts would have told, unfair to my players. Certainly not what the psychologist ordered. And hardly what was needed to drive them to give of their very best and not spinelessly surrender the Wisden Trophy today.

Unlike on Saturday when the meteorological people got it completely wrong, they were right on the ball yesterday. From 10 for 2 at the end of Day Three, the West Indies will be able to start Day Five on 10 for 2. Not a ball bowled.

So the daunting task of surviving two days against England’s relentless attack is now the daunting task of surviving 98 overs against England’s relentless attack.

Photo: England cricketers wait for an ultimately unsuccessful appeal during the second day of the first Test match against West Indies at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton on Thursday 9 July 2020.
(Copyright Mike Hewitt/Pool via AP)

And to have any chance of achieving that, Holder’s men must be undaunted, resolute, strong-minded, iron-willed, obstinate, uncompromising, immovable and, if need be, heroic.

History, alas, is not on their side; one searches in vain for precedents. Just three come to my mind but Jason Holder and Shane Dowrich’s heroics came in completely different conditions at home in Barbados.

In England, we can point to the Second Test at Lords in 1966. Garry Sobers and his cousin David Holford came together with the West Indies staring defeat in the face at 99 for 5. Their unbroken 274 saved their team and earned a draw in the match.

More relevant, at Headingley in August of 2017, Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope put on 144 runs for the third wicket to put West Indies on track for an eventual remarkable five-wicket win. The West Indian line-up in that match also included Roston Chase, Jermaine Blackwood, Dowrich, Holder, Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel.

The relentless England attack included Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes.

Photo: England bowler Stuart Broad celebrates a Test wicket.
(Copyright Independent.co.uk)

Truth be told, there will be no remarkable West Indian win here in Manchester today. But WI have hardly helped their cause. The selectors retained Gabriel, visibly struggling with fitness in the Second Test, brought in the heavyweight off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall and left out Alzarri Joseph, whose albeit unflattering figures in the four previous innings read 56.1-11-182-3.

As an interesting aside, Gabriel’s 68 overs contained just nine maidens.

But in a game which you need only to draw to retain possession of the Wisden Trophy—for keeps, as it turns out—they should, in my view, have rested Gabriel and retained Joseph, whose control is a much more useful asset in a game which you are aiming merely not to lose.

As for Cornwall, his eventual match figures were 46-7-164-0 and he contributed a mere 10 runs with the bat, surviving, more importantly, for 23 minutes.

I doubt that on Day Five, when the imperative is occupation and whittling away at the maximum 98 overs, his powerful hitting down the ground will prove more effective than Joseph’s dogged defence.

But which cricketing genius could be expected to have foreseen that on Friday morning before the toss?

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)

It is also of course true that Cornwall’s off-spin might well have been a lethal weapon on a wearing Day Five pitch. Tell that to skipper Holder who, in a match where a draw is as good a win, opted to insert the opposition. On a wicket, mind you, where no team has done so before and won!

Also worthy of note is that Holder doesn’t seem to find conversations with his bowlers particularly useful. I remember only a handful of times in the course of England’s two innings—almost 170 overs in all—when he felt the need for close consultation with them.

With Joe Root’s troops hoping to speed up the pace of scoring so that they could declare before the close of the third day, slowing the pace of proceedings was an entirely incidental consequence, of which the skipper seemed blissfully unaware.

Holder, it is no secret, is no out-of-the-box thinker; I have already in this space identified his predilection for abandoning the beaten track merely to get back to the highway. But I feel constrained to point out as well how, with Root and Rory Burns motoring towards the 400-run target that the homesters had apparently set themselves, he never once operated without a slip.

Is it in poor taste to ask whether, with all five stones of Cornwall in the XI, he had no option?

Photo: England captain Joe Root on the attack.

The question also has to be asked about the decision to send in a night watchman when John Campbell again failed on Sunday. Personal experience has prejudiced me so I am completely opposed to promoting one of nine, ten, Jack to face any late-evening music. But it had worked with Joseph in the Second Test so…

Another question to be asked, methinks, is what Holder said to substitute wicketkeeper Joshua de Silva after he failed to stump Burns off Chase, early-ish on in the piece. I hope he had the presence of mind to congratulate the young Trinidadian but I don’t expect that he did.

In the 1979 World Cup final, Clive Lloyd put down a catch off Mike Brearley. The most successful West Indies skipper has publicly denied that it was deliberate but no West Indian shed any tears.

On Sunday, cheers, not tears, were again in order. An astute captain might well have taken full advantage of the shotlessness of England’s opening pair and kept them at bat. I could see no evidence that Holder qualifies.

So what, realistically, can we hope for today? Apart from rain, of course. The heavens have done their part; the rest is up to us.

Photo: West Indies batsman Kraigg Brathwaite.
(via Business Standard)

The weather that will save us is lightning striking twice in more or less the same place. Can the stubborn Kraigg Brathwaite and the embattled Hope see their team to safety? Can they, the cynics will ask, see their team to lunch?

My eye has been on Holder who thirsts after success. But, with an injured left thumb, he will be quite unable to do any of the heavy lifting.

So can the West Indies find a shield to protect them against Root’s relentless forces? Will the Holder-less West Indies find any immovable objects to stand in the way of England’s irresistible force?

All I will venture is this: not if Simmons’ Freudian slip has left them resentful.

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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