Day One of a Test match spawns an almost indescribable feeling. I was only one of probably 200 West Indians at the Kensington Oval in Barbados, the venue for the Second Apex Test; the other 25,000 or so packed in were unmistakably English. Near capacity!
The Barmy Army announced their arrival by all standing at attention and, in unison, loudly singing their national anthem as the English opening pair of Zak Crawley and Alex Lees strode out to the middle. An unbelievable experience, feeling more like Lord’s—but without the cloudless, sunny skies and near 330 temperature.
On a disappointingly grassless Kensington Oval playing surface, England won the toss and predictably chose to bat. As per usual, the Oval wicket had a hint of preparation moisture and seamed around a touch during the first hour.
Crawley was first to go for a duck, with a good catch taken by Joshua Da Silva low to his right courtesy a Jayden Seales outswinger. 4 for 1, WI strike early. But that would be their only success for quite some time.
Skipper Joe Root joined Lees and, while the bowling was accurate and disciplined, so too was the batting on a track that became predictably lifeless. After the first hour, little to no swing or sideways movement off the seam was evident.
Making slow progress, the England second-wicket pair set about their task by ensuring no further loss of wickets like there had been on the opening day of last week’s Antigua Test. Lees was the next to go for a cautious 30, which took him all of 138 balls to achieve. 80 for 2.
Then came the partnership of the day. Unlike Lees and even Root, Dan Lawrence’s timing and placement were a joy to watch. He was straight away extremely positive and, with his skipper putting down roots at the other end, the WI got only a few glimmers of hope until literally the last ball of the day.
Holder, with second new ball in hand, had Lawrence (91) driving loosely to be caught by Brathwaite at short extra-cover agonisingly close to his maiden Test hundred.
Root eventually got to his seemingly inevitable, well-played hundred although for me it was not as enjoyable an innings as Lawrence’s. No one could dislodge the England skipper, who stamped his authority on the day’s proceedings to be still there at the close on 119 from 246 deliveries.
His partnership of 164 with Lawrence blunted the WI efforts. Once again, the pacemen had to toil all day with little reward and at times they looked tired and frustrated.
I believe West Indies skipper Kraigg Brathwaite may even have lost track of things a bit at one point. The game of Test cricket is merciless and sometimes it’s the very little things that count.
So when I saw Alzarri Joseph standing at first slip to the pacers, I thought to myself, where’s Jason Holder or John Campbell or Nkrumah Bonner or Jermaine Blackwood or even Brathwaite himself? Anybody else really.
As fate would have it, Lawrence, then on 66, edged to Joseph off Seales. At a perfectly catchable height. The chance burst through the reverse cup of his hands and sped down to the third man boundary for four.
Livid, Seales wasn’t afraid to let his anger and frustration show.
As in the First Test, despite being one of only three bowlers to take a wicket, Veerasammy Permaul again looked completely ineffective. The batsmen effortlessly manoeuvred his left-arm finger spin around the park. In my view, he was fortunate to have that one at the end of his 22-1-61-1 analysis.
England closed Day One on 244 for 3, just as the crescendo of the English fan base reached its peak, surely after a successful day of consuming the local ale and bar stall hopping at the venue.
Looking forward to another fabulous day of hard-nosed Test cricket on Day Two.