Had gun-shy West Indies skipper Kraigg Brathwaite decided to risk a review off the last ball of the 20th over in the Second Apex Test at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados today, England might have found themselves—not for the first time—in a spot of bother before lunch.
He did not and his error of judgement reprieved England skipper Joe Root.
Root reprieves often come with a high price tag. And he enjoyed more than one today.
By day’s end, England, 36 for 1 when Brathwaite chickened out, were sitting pretty on an ominous 244 for 3. And their skipper had hit a total of 12 boundaries to move from 23 at that stage to an unbeaten 119, his 25th Test ton.
With six 2021 centuries under his belt and one more added in last week’s First Test, Root has now scored over 2000 Test runs since the start of 2021, almost 1000 more than India’s Rishabh Pant in second place.
His second, more straightforward let-off came in the 34th over when, his score 34 and the total on 52 for 1, he flicked at a leg-side delivery from Roach and got an edge. Da Silva flung himself low to his left, got the ball in his grasp but could not hold on.
The aggressive Dan Lawrence (91 off 150, 13 x 4, 1 x 6) too has performed quite well in his 10 Tests so far, with a current aggregate of 502 runs. And the West Indies have Jason Holder to thank for his not posting his first three-figure Test score and not being there to carry on with Root tomorrow morning.
With what would have been the penultimate ball of the day, the all-rounder used the second new ball to serve up a slower delivery to Lawrence. Having clouted successive fours off the two previous balls, the elegant right-hander went for it, mishit it and Brathwaite at short extra-cover made no mistake.
In the 44 overs or so before that, Root and Lawrence had combined in a 164-run third-wicket partnership, adding 100 off only 134 balls with a flurry of powerful strokes on both sides of the wicket.
Continuing where he left off in the second innings in Antigua, Lawrence helped his skipper move the score along at a rate of knots, posting his fourth Test half-century off just 62 balls in the process.
Brathwaite’s men had two chances to separate them via the run-out route. With Lawrence on 33 and the total 150 for 2, the England number four pushed the ball straight to John Campbell at mid-on and took off for a single. Campbell misfielded.
The second came when Root pushed to Brathwaite at cover and Lawrence, on 71, took off for the run. Had Brathwaite’s throw hit the stumps, that would have been the end of him.
But it was Alzarri Joseph who had the best post-tea chance to break the partnership. When Jayden Seales induced an edge from Lawrence in the 83rd over, the hard-working pacer, unwontedly at slip, grassed the chance, letting himself and the whole team down.
The fruitful third-wicket association was the second of two partnerships on which the England innings was built. Winning the toss and taking first strike, Root found himself at the crease in the fourth over, Zak Crawley having failed to get his bat out of the way of a Seales away swinger and Joshua Da Silva completing an easy catch.
Mindful of the pre-lunch 48 for 4 collapse in Antigua last week, Root and the left-handed Alex Lees (30 off 138, 3 x 4) were a picture of circumspection, crawling to lunch at 47 for 1 on a ‘very docile’ (Roddy Estwick), ‘disheartening’ (Curtly Ambrose) pitch that offered little help to the disciplined West Indies bowlers.
In the first hour after lunch, Veerasammy Permaul, lucky to be retained in an unchanged WI side after his wicketless First Test, got a straight ball past Lees’ bat and struck him in front of middle. After that, despite the best efforts of Brathwaite and the other six bowlers on whom he called as they sought to restrain the rampant English pair, it was the Root and Lawrence show.
Permaul (22-1-61-1) gave yeoman service as did Holder (18.5-4-52-1). The first of the only four extras so far conceded in the innings came when Alzarri Joseph overstepped in the fifth over after tea.
Brathwaite, to his credit, never threw in the towel. He called on Permaul’s left-arm spin before lunch and, just before tea, tried an over of Nkrumah Bonner’s leg-breaks. After the interval, he even experimented with three overs of his own off-breaks, (using the term very loosely).
When the new ball became due just before the close, he delayed taking it until only five overs were left in the day’s play. But to partner Roach, he chose not Seales, who had opened the bowling in the morning, but Holder. It proved an inspired choice.
With the inexperience of the two debutants, Saqib Mahmood and Matt Fisher, England have included in their line-up, Root and his batsmen will be eyeing a total in excess of 400, probably close to 500.
Brathwaite and his bowlers on the other hand will have to reproduce today’s discipline to make sure that, if England do manage that, it takes them an eternity to get there.
(SUMMARISED DAY ONE SCORES)
England 1st Inns: 244 for 3 (89.5 overs) (Joe Root 119*, Dan Lawrence 91, Jayden Seales 1/30, Jason Holder 1/52, Veerasammy Permaul 1/61)
West Indies: Kraigg Brathwaite (captain), John Campbell, Nkrumah Bonner, Shamarh Brooks, Jermaine Blackwood, Jason Holder, Joshua DaSilva (wicketkeeper), Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach, Veerasammy Permaul, Jayden Seales.