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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

England vs West Indies: Windies pass opening Test

Blackwood’s gritty 95 guides West Indies to a thrilling four-wicket win over England; go 1-0 up in 3-match series.

By: Express News Service | Published: July 13, 2020 9:14:28 am
West Indies’ middle-order batsman Jermaine Blackwood (95) was involved in a match-winning 68-run partnership with doughty Shane Dowrich. (Source: AP)

A fascinating Test match ended in thrilling fashion, as West Indies, propelled by Jermaine Blackwood’s 95, inflicted a four-wicket win over England. Chasing 200 on a largely docile fifth-day surface in Southampton, after England were bowled out for 313, the visitors overcame early wobbles and late drama to wrap up a memorable run chase.

Test cricket’s return in these tough times couldn’t have been more entertaining. Though the rhythms were lazy for the most part of the match, the last four sessions exploded into life.

Blackwood was an unlikely hero, not least after the hideous shot he played to get out in the first innings. He got out in identical fashion in the second innings too, but after effectively winning the match for his team.

It could well have been his last Test innings, but here he was delivering a splendid account of his batsmanship, reviving a career that was long written off. Between October 2017 and July 2020, his lone appearance came as a concussion substitute in the second innings of the Sabina Park Test against India last year. He made a stroke-laden 38, played Jasprit Bumrah better than anyone else on that tour, but it only confirmed the selectors’ worst fears that his temperament in this format was still dodgy.

The quality of his stroke-making was seldom disputed — he was anointed for bigger feats after a terrific hundred against England in North Sound in 2015 — but his temperament was often caught wanting for the hard grind of Test cricket. It required a standout domestic season — 768 runs in 15 innings including his maiden double hundred (248) in this year’s domestic season — to chart his way back. Still, had Darren Bravo or Shimron Hetmyer not aborted the tour, he would have been warming the benches.

Much of Blackwood’s technique is still the same, he remains an off-side heavy player. He’s a handsome player down the ground, unafraid to loft seamers and loves to free his arms at anything with a hint of width.

What has changed, though, is his discretion. He doesn’t counterpunch as instinctively as he used to in the past; rather he has added more judiciousness into his batting without forsaking his attacking inclination. He waits for the right ball to play the right stroke. The end result was the perfect innings for the occasion. He couldn’t have retreated into a shell, it would have played into England’s hands. He couldn’t go full-throttle, for it would have hastened the end. That he managed to blend patience with aggression testifies his ripening as a Test cricketer.

Needless to say, he played some breathtaking strokes, exuding a Caribbean joie de vivre. Most emphatic was a straight drive, more of a thud rather, over James Anderson’s head.

The Jamaican just cleared the front-leg and swung his long, muscular hands at a length ball. Earlier, the England talisman was deftly clipped behind for a boundary soon after reaching his half-century.

England’s best put to rest

Similarly, England’s best bowler of the day, Jofra Archer bore the brunt of his blade. He was expertly clumped off the legs, before swatting him through backward point and creaming him through covers to complete the 50-run partnership with Shane Dowrich. Then to show his polish, Blackwood languidly cover-drove Mark Wood, those malleable wrists again guiding the ball through the gaps, compensating for his lack of reach.

At times he rode his luck, but England had only themselves to blame for their shoddy fielding. Jos Buttler spilled a routine edge off Stokes’s bowling. Rory Burns couldn’t latch onto a thick edge that flew past gully off Stokes, the England skipper himself went in the wrong direction to an edge at slips, and Zak Crawley couldn’t affect the simplest of run outs. Several times Blackwood played and missed and survived lbw shouts and reviews. But unperturbed, he carried on.

He was involved in two vital partnerships, first with the chase-resurrecting 73-run association with Roston Chase, who batted bravely before getting out to a brute that leapt off from a good length. And then with a match-swinging 68-run partnership with the doughty Shane Dowrich. The reversal arrived after the visitors had slumped to 27/3 and with John Campbell retired hurt, after Archer’s yorker shattered his toes. In those frantic opening exchanges, Archer bossed around the batsmen, some of them who were his school seniors in Barbados.

Criticised for his listless bowing in the first innings, he cranked up serious pace, struck a menacing length, seamed the ball fractionally both ways and got England off to a terrific start. At one stage, West Indies were reeling at 7/2, before Mark Woods consumed Shai Hope and another familiar Caribbean implosion loomed large. Woods tried to force a late twist, by dismissing Dowrich, and then Blackwood too departed, but Jason Holder calmly carried them on his large shoulders to the finish line. As he has often done in the last few years.

Brief scores: England 204 & 313 all out (Z Crawley 76; S Gabriel 5/75) lost to West Indies 318 & 200/ 6 (J Blackwood 95, R Chase 37; J Archer 3/45, B Stokes 2/39) by 4 wickets.

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