Apex Peek: Fresh England ready to fire; are resilient West Indies ready to resist?

The message on arrival and departure couldn’t be clearer. At the airport, large Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Air Canada jets and more lined the runways. As I boarded Caribbean Airlines on departure after the Test match, busloads of visitors were still being shuttled in. Yesterday, on the ocean front, I saw four huge cruise ships docked in the port.

Let’s not forget that, on each of the first two days, there were as many as 25,000 Brits packed into Kensington Oval!

Photo: England’s famous travelling cricket supporters provide vocal support for their team. .

So slow wicket or not, that didn’t deter anyone from having an electric time from Day One. The cricketers may have been grinding it out on the field but the English know how to entertain themselves so the party stand and all in-house entertainment was in full swing.

Day 5 was no different. With a healthy enough overnight lead of over 140, it was clear that some T20-style stuff was coming. England would surely seek quick runs to set up a declaration in an attempt to steal a late afternoon win.

WI also had their plans. On Saturday evening, they had opened the bowling with Kemar Roach at one end and Veerasammy Permaul’s left-arm spin at the other. Permaul would continue on Sunday morning and enjoy some success as the batsmen tried to have a go at him. He added two wickets to the three he took in the first innings.

The England openers started well—Alex Lees being more sedate but Zak Crawley, who looks a quality player, the aggressor playing well for 40. On entry, Joe Root smashed Permaul straight overhead for a boundary but then scooped one to deep midwicket in the same over.

The dangerous Ben Stokes deposited a few over the ropes but was smartly caught by skipper Kraigg Brathwaite at a shortish extra-cover for 19.

Photo: England batsman Ben Stokes prepares his devastating reverse sweep against the West Indies during the 2022 Apex Test Series.
(Copyright UK Telegraph)

Playing some extravagant shots, Lawrence got a quick-fire 41 and got the lead up to around 240, enough, one thought, for Root to declare before lunch given that there was a bit of rain around. It didn’t happen. England carried on batting all the way to lunch, taking the lead to 281.

There was no way that this West Indies team would attempt to chase such a target in 65 overs. Why would England think that a WI, who scored at a rate of 2.19 runs per over in the first innings, would suddenly find it easy to score at around 4.32?

So on an easy-paced wicket, all that was required to close out a hard fought draw was some steady batting. But this is the WI. Nothing like a good, old-fashioned, late-match heart flutter to bring the curtain down on the match.

Despite a couple of decent opening partnerships in Antigua, without a big score from John Campbell just yet, the left-hander once again failed to impress. He faced 22 balls, contributing only 10 to add to his earlier 35, 22 and 4. Despite not losing either of the first two Tests, WI will find cause for worry in his 17.75 series average.

Photo: West Indies batsman John Campbell smashes the ball to the leg-side boundary during WI Championship action for the Jamaica Scorpions against the T&T Red Force in Tarouba on 9 February 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

The top order crumbled. I left Kensington for the airport at 1:30pm with all wickets intact. On arrival at Grantley Adams 25 minutes later, I learned that Campbell, Shamarh Brooks and Nkrumah Bonner could have come along in the same taxi.

Once again, it was left to the skipper and his deputy Jermaine Blackwood to hold firm. Follow his first innings 160, Brathwaite—accurately described as the rock—added a composed unbeaten half-century while Blackwood got to 27 before he was dismissed at 89 for 4. Lawrence then took a stunning catch at cover-point to dismiss Jason Holder for a 24-ball duck off Jack Leach and WI were in trouble at 93 for 5

We wondered whether we were going to witness another infamous calypso collapso as fast bowler Saqib Mahmood looked in no mood to disappoint.

Nothing to worry about.

Another solid innings of 30 not out from wicketkeeper Joshua Da Silva denied England a late flourish. Given his first innings 33, he now has a healthy series average of 47 to complement the very hard work he has put in behind the stumps in the first two matches, over 350 overs!

Photo: West Indies batsman Joshua Da Silva gets some more runs square on the off-side during the First Test against Sri Lanka in November 2021.
(via CWI Media)

How many times in his young Test career thus far has he been forced to play similar roles? His parents Michael and Caroline Da Silva’s chests were swollen with pride, after witnessing him play a Test match in person for the very first time.

He’s loved and respected by the Bajan public and the British fans alike and he has caught the eye of several former players, who told me how impressed they were with him.

His new equipment sponsor, Johnno Gordon of Woodstock Cricket, was elated at the performance of his new player. His visit to Barbados with his team of executives wasn’t wasted.

So after a tame draw, it’s now onward to the Spice Isle for a decider. Both camps have some hard decisions to make.

For both teams, the workload on the fast bowlers in particular might force a change here and there. England have more options—and experienced ones at that—as Craig Overton and Ollie Robinson looked fit, rested and ready to go as they went through their paces with relative ease while in Barbados.

Photo: West Indies players await a decision from the third umpire during action against England in the Apex Test Series.
(Copyright Getty Images)

WI will also have concerns about Permaul, who has not caused any worry whatsoever despite his match haul of five wickets. In both innings, the quest for quick runs helped his cause. WI have one bowling option, Anderson Philip, yet to make his debut, being in the squad.

On the batting side of things, England’s line-up have all fired at some point, so no worries there. Brooks and Campbell, however, have not been able to get away and may well now be low on confidence. The back-up batsman in the squad is Kyle Mayers, who recently opened in a white ball match, but there is no Test opener in reserve.

The question of the day is what kind of playing surface can we expect for the Test which starts tomorrow? We all know that both Antigua and Barbados were disappointingly below par, unacceptable, really. Grenada has not had first-class cricket for some time owing to Covid restrictions so they have had quite a bit of time to prepare.

If the wicket has any life, England seem to be, as I predicted prior to the First Test, the better prepared team. They now have a fresh attack to choose from and they will be ready to fire. I give them the edge.

Photo: England bowler Saqib Mahmood (centre) celebrates a West Indies wicket with his elated captain Joe Root (left) during the Second Test in Kensington Oval on 19 March 2022.
(via Yahoo)

It will be interesting to see an attack potentially featuring the pace of Mahmood, Overton and Chris Woakes, with Stokes as back-up. Leach is also enjoying a good series.

WI will once again have to summon all the resistance and resilience they have admirably displayed thus far.

Best wishes to the men in maroon!

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