Rain interrupted proceedings five times in the course of the second day of the First Apex Test match at the Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound in Antigua.
But at the end of the kind of day that frustrates West Indian cricketers, thanks largely to an unbeaten 75-run partnership between Jason Holder and Nkrumah Bonner, Kraigg Brathwaite’s West Indies were at level pegging with Joe Root’s England, on 202 for 4, just over 100 runs shy of their first innings total of 311.
“I think it is evenly poised to be honest,” said West Indies captain Kraigg Braithwaite, at the close of play. “I think tomorrow the pitch will play [well] again, so it is a very important day for us as a team. We’ve got to start the day well.”
Like England’s fifth-wicket pair the day before, Holder (43* off 104, 6 x4, 1 x 6) and Bonner (34 off 103, 3 x 4) recognised that, at 127 for 4, consolidation was what was needed if the good start was not to be frittered away. And content to advance chirrup chirrup when the situation did not conduce to the big shot and eschewing all risks, they showed that they had the wherewithal to provide it.
In fact, on a track that offered little help to any of the bowlers, Jack Leach (0/29) would enter the attack before lunch and serve up almost 16 overs of deadly accurate left-arm orthodox spin, including nine consecutive maidens. That hardly troubled the confident pair.
But Joe Root’s two overs of gentle off-spin cost 14, a measure of the judiciousness of the approach by the middle-order pair.
Of course, the inclement weather made things no easier for them. But it was application and skill that saw them through. There were quite a few edges but not one clear chance went to hand to be shelled by the England fieldsmen.
Things could have been much better for the home side who, like on the first day, won the first session hands down. They quickly wrapped up the last four England wickets—overnight century maker Jonny Bairstow taking his unbeaten 109 to 140 before being last man out.
And then openers Brathwaite and John Campbell kept their wickets intact up to lunch and came within 17 runs of a century partnership.
But things could also have been much worse as collapse threatened early—the West Indies losing four wickets for 44 runs. The openers were separated when Campbell (35 off 63, 6 x 4) failed to get his glove out of the way of a Craig Overton lifter at 83.
Brathwaite (55 off 70, 7x 4, 1 x 6) pushed his own tally to 50, the fastest of his now 23 half-centuries coming off 62 balls. But then, after also seeing his team to three figures, he helped a widish ball from Chris Wood straight into Overton’s safe hands at point.
Given the responsibility of batting at three despite his relative inexperience, Shamarh Brooks flattered to deceive. He drove a couple of very good-looking boundaries square and down the ground off the middle of the bat. But when he essayed a loose drive at Stokes, Root was waiting at slip to swallow the edge.
Never at his best when his team is not on top, which is often, Jermaine Blackwood came and went quickly. He did, however, manage to ensure that all of the top four reached double figures—worthy of note with this batting line-up.
From that shaky foundation, the story might have been very different. Holder and Bonner, displaying levelheadedness and patience uncharacteristic of today’s West Indian batsmen, steered the ship to relative safety.
Not one of the England bowlers came away with more than one scalp.
Earlier, Jayden Seales had taken his first innings tally to four, his double strike torpedoing the England plans early. First, the young pacer forced Chris Woakes to tickle a lifter through to Joshua Da Silva with a mere 17 runs added to the overnight 268. And two balls later, Overton fended off his second delivery to short-leg where Bonner took a good, low catch.
With only ten and Jack left, Bairstow might have fancied his chances of prolonging the innings. But Alzarri Joseph first removed Mark Wood, skying an attempted pull to Veerasammy Permaul at point, and then accounted for the top scorer as well—Holder taking a very well judged catch running over his head back from point.
In addition to Seales (4/79), Holder, Joseph and Roach all finished with two scalps each.
For the West Indians, the Day Three challenge is clear. Weather permitting, the six remaining wickets must overhaul the English target and, if at all possible, put a sizeable lead on the board by the end of the second session.
“[…] It is a good batting pitch, so bowlers have to work hard for their wickets,” said Brathwaite, who credited Holder’s maturity and leadership with the bat so far. “I think the more time we spend tomorrow [out in the middle], the lead will take care of itself.”
“[…] We just have to buckle down and fight and don’t underestimate [England]—that’s the key for us.”
He and his men know only too well what scoreboard pressure can do to the most formidable line-ups. And they know as well that recent performance hardly qualifies Root’s England to be so classified.
(SUMMARISED DAY TWO SCORES)
England 1st Inns: 311 all out (100.3 overs) (Jonny Bairstow 140, Ben Foakes 42, Ben Stokes 36; Jayden Seales 22-6-79-4, Kemar Roach 21-3-86-2, Jason Holder 21-11-24-2, Alzarri Joseph 20.3-2-70-2)
West Indies 1st Inns: 202 for 4 (66.5 overs) (Kraigg Brathwaite 55, Jason Holder 43*, John Campbell 35, Nkrumah Bonner 34*; Ben Stokes 1/20, Mark Wood 1/24)
(Still to bat: Joshua Da Silva, Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach, Veerasammy Permaul, Jayden Seales.)