After 117 days, cricket returned in grand style with a magnificent exhibition at the Rose Bowl in Southampton.
West Indies, buoyed by the Black Lives Matter backdrop and led by the skill of Jason Holder, pulled off a thrilling four-wicket win against England to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Shannon Gabriel picked up a five-wicket haul and Jermaine Blackwood was the star in the fourth innings with 95 as West Indies took one step closer to breaking their 32-year jinx of not having won a Test series in England.
This was the 55th time out of 61 instances that West Indies successfully chased down a target of 200 or less in the fourth innings. The other six instances have been drawn.
It was an uphill task against an England side not determined to lose. Jofra Archer produced a brilliant spell to reduce West Indies to 27/3.
However, Blackwood shared a 73-run stand for the fourth wicket with Shai Hope and a 68-run partnership with Shane Dowrich as West Indies took the series lead in a Test series in England in 20 years.
Blackwood’s innings was punctuated with a couple of dropped catches, with Ben Stokes, Rory Burns and Jos Buttler dropping crucial catches. Blackwood controlled his naturally aggressive game and went on to make 95, improving his average against England to 55 and 35 in the fourth innings.
Holding their nerve, unlike India
If one looked at Blackwood’s innings and the support he had, in addition to Gabriel’s Man of the Match performance, one goes back to the missed opportunities Virat Kohli’s India had on their tour to England in 2018.
Had they held their nerve and with most of the top order batsmen had shown intent to hang in there, the scoreline could very well have been 3-2 in India’s favour instead of the 4-1 win which England registered.
In the first Test at Edgbaston, India let England, in particular Sam Curran off the hook as he gave India a target of 194.
In the first innings, Kohli’s 149 had kept India in the game with no one even crossing 30. and in the second innings, he once again was the key with a brilliant 51. The rest of the batting simply fell away with the next highest score being Hardik Pandya’s 31.
Even during the chase, England’s fielders dropped catches. However, Kohli and India could not make them pay. Bad shots, lapse in concentration, inability to curb attacking game and bad shot selection on a dodgy wicket proved to be their downfall.
Blackwood and the West Indies players hung in, showed application, took the blows on the body and hurt England on a tricky wicket.
With the ball, India allowed Sam Curran to stitch crucial partnerships with the tail. In Edgbaston 2018, the last three wickets put on 93. In Southampton 2020, it was 35.
The plot was repeated in Southampton in the fourth Test. In England’s second innings, Curran and the last three wickets put on 93 runs and India fell short by 60 runs in their chase of 245. Two years later, Gabriel showed how stump-to-stump bowling could mop the tail up.
It helped that England did some selection blunders by omitting Stuart Broad while Curran was unfortunately unavailable after falling ill in the warm-up game.
Intent to play
West Indies cricket has suffered massively ever since their downward slide in 1995. They have been beaten at home and away by all oppositions, barring to a certain extent Zimbabwe. Their reputation has taken a beating.
However, in the last couple of seasons, they are slowly taking an upward curve. Series wins against England at home and away, wins against Pakistan, Sri Lanka show signs of improvement.
“This group of players are showing an intent to play Test cricket.” This is what Michael Holding, who enlightened the world with his insights into racism, spoke about after the win in Southampton. West Indies might be a long way to beat teams like Australia, South Africa and India, but they are on their path to revival.
A series win in England after 32 years might be the perfect tonic for a revival that could take place amidst a broader struggle for the #BlackLivesMatter movement.