Before leaving for the long England tour, Pakistan test captain Azhar Ali questioned the strength of the English top order. It wasn’t a secret. England is a tough place to bat against the new ball. Replacements of Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook haven’t been found yet. In the age of data analysts, you would be really shocked if an international captain wasn’t aware of this vulnerability of England.
As Pakistan quarantined and then played intra-squad games, West Indies took centre stage. Much of the pre-series talk was all about the susceptibility of the Caribbean batsmen against the potentially moving ball. Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer are missing. England has an abundance of riches in their fast bowling stocks. They would roll over West Indies, fairly easily, many predicted.
After five days of cricket in a bio-secure bubble, Azhar Ali’s assertion was repeated by the victorious West Indian Captain Jason Holder. Joe Root absence gave us an opportunity considering the English top order, he said. Whereas, stand in English captain Ben Stokes talked about leaving out Stuart Broad and his reasons for it.
But the focus must shift to West Indies now for a few days. England top order’s fragility and selection matters are one thing. But one can’t help but marvel at the commitment of Shannon Gabriel. He looks menacing as anyone else in the game. But at the same time, it is his skill that gets him his wickets. On the 4th day, in the last session, where West Indies blew away the English middle to late order, one wicket really stood out. Dom Bess, in his short career, has shown that he is a perfectly capable batsman. With his solid defensive technique, he could have hung around with Ollie Pope, to frustrate the West Indians. But for Shannon Gabriel.
In the middle of a super spell, he delivered one of his trademark incoming deliveries. Delivered from wide of the crease, it hit the middle and off stump line, on a fullish length. Bess is committed to that line, expecting the ball to come in from that angle. Then the trick happened as the ball landed on the seam. It holds its line and before Bess can do anything, the death rattle sounds echoes around the crowd less stadium. It was a moment of supreme quality.
Today, he helped mop up the English tail. When West Indies were practically four down for 27, the target looked miles away. But another hero appeared. Making a comeback Jermaine Blackwood was put to the test. His talents are obvious but temperament has been the issue.
It showed when he got out with a rather impatient drive to mid-off chasing a 100. But for 95 runs and most of his 154 balls, he was in control. Despite making the odd error, he was continued almost till the end. Despite constant sledging by England, there was no false bravado.
This was a different Blackwood. A more determined and motivated individual. A reflection of what this West Indian team has become under captain Jason Holder and coach Phil Simmons. As someone who has grown up reading about the great West Indian teams, long may it continue…except against Pakistan of course.