At the end of the third day, the outcome of the match is still unknown but it would require an epic rescue act from the West Indies to retain the Wisden Trophy. The script ran perfectly for England—they winkled out West Indies for 197 runs and seized a lead of 172 runs, to which they added another 226 runs and set the tourists a target of 399.
The cornerstone was their openers—Rory Burns and Dom Sibley, putting together their first 100-run association in their 10th outing, the first by England’s openers in the post-Alastair Cook era. That they average 43 should make the England management happy and relieved that they have finally unearthed a reliable pair of openers, though sterner tests could await them.
England’s travails at the top have been duly documented. Though the flashpoint is often pinpointed to the retirement of Cook, the rot had set in much earlier. Since Nick Compton and Cook parted ways in 2012—they averaged 57.93 — the search for his other half has been as endless as it was futile. England’s highest run-getter had associated with eight partners.
Apart from the fleeting promise Haseeb Hameed showed, they averaged 67.6, none of his new-ball accomplices stuck on or managed an average of more than 37 runs.
Even Burns, who has featured in only 18 Tests, had opened with two others on more than five instances, Keaton Jennings and Joe Denly, averaging 29.33 and 21.66 respectively. Finally, he seems to have found an ideal partner in Sibley. They are an idiosyncratic pair, but their monumental powers of concentration could lay the foundation for more daring stroke-makers like Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope to blossom.
The possibility of heavy spells of downpour didn’t prompt a change of methods. They approached the target-setting process as they generally do, seeing off the new ball and accumulating the runs. At no point did they try to manufacture runs, which did raise some eyebrows, what with the rain lurking around. But the form their pace quartet are enjoying at the moment coupled with the instability of West Indies batsmen, they would believe they have enough time to bundle the visitors and claim the series, even if rain intervenes.
Playing into their hands, West Indies bowled as though they had surrendered all hopes. Kemar Roach seemed disillusioned, Shannon Gabriel dispirited. Together, they wasted the new ball, a flurry of wickets was the only way West Indies would have bounced back into the match. They seemed content in stifling the runs, against a pair of openers who were disinclined to force the scoring rate.
They just waited for things to happen, just as England did in the morning, until Stuart Broad interfered, which has become theme music of the series. And again he hardly hummed a false note.
Considering his can’t-do-no-wrong form, it was bizarre why he was left out of bowling in the first hour, a period wherein Jason Holder and Shane Dowrich stuck in and cleared off the runs to avoid follow on. Old schoolmates, they negotiated Chris Woakes and Jofra Archer stoutly and ate into the deficit, adding 68 runs. However, the reintroduction of the old firm, James Anderson and Broad changed the mood of the morning.
It took Broad only three balls into his third spell to inflict the first blow—Jason Holder, the West Indies skipper leg-before the wicket, missing an attempted whip of the leg-side. Almost identically, he winkled out of Rahkeem Cornwall two later. The planning was not elaborate but offered a peep into Broad’s cleverness. With deliveries outside the off-stump, he encouraged batsmen to move across, he didn’t bother trading a couple of boundaries in the bargain, before he would slip in a straighter, fuller delivery. The wicket of Kemar Roach sealed his 18th five-wicket haul before he added Shane Dowrich to make it 6/31, his best since January 2016.
Yet again, West Indies would rue losing wickets in a cluster—four wickets while adding 19 runs. Then Broad likes to get his wickets in a rush, especially with a Duke ball in his hand and cloud cover over his head. It’s Broad ability to conjure something from nothing, in an idle moment, when the game is drifting away from them that makes his special. And he has made all the difference to this English side and they are within the sight of laying on hands on the Wisden Trophy before it becomes the property of Lord’s Museum.
Brief Scores: England 369 and 226/2 declared (Rory Burns 90, Joe Root 68 not out, Dom Sibley 56) vs West Indies 197 and 10/2 (Stuart Broad 2/8). WI need 389 runs to win.