Having opened the Test series with a rare win at the picturesque Ageas Bowl in Southampton, West Indies had a golden chance to take the momentum forward and seal the three-match series at Old Trafford.
Their bowlers were on the money and batters determined as the Caribbeans romped to a comfortable victory against the Englishmen.
However, all their good work came undone at Old Trafford as the West Indies literally surrendered the advantage to England.
The Caribbean opening bowlers, especially Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph, who steamed in at the Ageas Bowl and went through English defences with their raw pace, looked surprisingly short of a gallop at Old Trafford.
Despite having the Englishmen struggle at 29/2 and 81/3, the Islanders let the momentum slip as opener Dominic Sibley and the sensational Ben Stokes put together a 296-run partnership to steer the Three Lions out of harm’s way and put them on course to a big total.
While Sibley displayed exemplary patience and reached his second Test century off 372 balls, Stokes brought up yet another ton, an innings of 176 laced with delectable and lusty strokes, to effectively put the game beyond West Indies.
West Indies failed to capitalise
When it came to their turn with the willow, the Caribbeans cut a sorry picture as none of their batters failed to post a big score. While opener Kraig Braithwaite and his middle order mates Shamarh Brooks and Roston Chase scored half-centuries, none failed to kick on to a substantial score.
The West Indies batting card narrated a familiar story of missed chances and inconsistency, as the Islanders were all out for a disappointing 287, far short of England’s 469.
With no play on the third day due to persistent rain and wet outfield, England knew they had to drive the game forward to get a result in their favour. With a lead of 182, the English batters came out with a positive intent.
And, in a clear message to the rival camp that they were desperate to force a result in their favour, England sent out Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, their two most expressive and explosive batters, to open their second dig. The message was clearly to get on with it.
While England lost Buttler, Crawley and Root in trying to force the pace, Stokes, in the company of Ollie Pope, showed yet again why he is England’s go-to man in crunch situations across formats.
His stunning 78 off 57 balls helped England declare at 129/3, setting a target of 312 for the Islanders. However, the Islanders put up an even more woeful batting show as they were skittled out for 198. While Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes took the bowling honours, Stokes was in amongst the wickets as well. His 254 runs and 3 wickets in the match deservedly got him the Player of the Series award.
Lack of focus and drive
The defeat has yet again brought to the fore the mercurial side of West Indies cricket.
While the team that took to the turf at the Ageas Bowl looked a determined unit with both the batting and bowling coming good, the one that showed up at Old Trafford sorely lacked in focus and drive. It’s this inconsistency that has come to haunt and hurt Caribbean cricket time and time again.
When the situation called for grit and patience on a wearing fifth-day track, the West Indies got out playing needless shots instead of trying to hold fort. When the need of the hour was to put a price tag on their wickets and bat out the day, the Islanders were found wanting.
Often a draw is as good as a win and this is one lesson that Jason Holder and his boys need to take home after the Old Trafford defeat.
While coach Phil Simmons has put the Caribbean batsmen on notice after the second Test defeat, the question is can they find their best form in time for the series decider? Over to Old Trafford again.