England came back at West Indies as the shadows lengthened on a riveting day of Test cricket at Old Trafford. The visitors were on the brink of taking total charge, purring at 242/4, before Stuart Broad interfered with three wickets in the space of 14 deliveries with the second new ball.
In the end, West Indies huffed past the follow-on mark, but they are far from safety in saving the Test, as they ended up conceding a massive first-innings lead of 182, stuttering to a total of 287.
Broad’s spell with the second new ball was as incisive as it was decisive. It came at a time when the match seemed slipping away from England, with Shamarh Brooks and Roston Chase steadily extinguishing England’s victory hopes. It was that kind of an on-the-precipice moment he relishes.
So often, his run-up mirrors his mood. When he’s in rhythm, he bristles in like a sprinter in sight of the finish line, every sinew exhaling a luminous energy. The rest falls into place — the sharpness, the skid he gets off the surface and the sharp seam movement he can harness from the driest of surfaces. He was woefully unfortunate in his first spell after lunch, beating batsmen repeatedly, but the second new ball made amends.
YES! Deserved wicket for @StuartBroad8! 🎯
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 19, 2020
He nabbed Brooks with a vicious nip-backer, that swung late and kept a fraction low. In the next over, he battered Southampton hero Jermaine Blackwood with a grubber, one that shot low. Lack of bounce deceived Shane Dowrich too. The wicket-keeper batsman was not the only one that cast suspicious glances at the wicket. There was a bit of devil on the strip, but the devil dwelled in Broad’s bowling. All three wickets bore from his fine lengths and inward movement. He shrewdly mixed his lengths and targeted the stumps, rather than striving for outside edges. With barely any assistance off the surface, Brooks and Chase were despatching full balls without strain. England heads were drooping, and perceptible was a sense of foreboding.
But then Broad reenergised England. Though West Indies somehow managed to avert follow-on, England would believe they could fashion a result, which seemed improbable when Brooks was finessing a fine 68.
BROOOOOADY AGAIN!! 🙌
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 19, 2020
Brooks was arguably the finest batsman so far in the Test. Most batsmen have made batting look laborious, but Brooks made it look effortless and elegant. Though Barbadian, he has a Guyanese elegance about him, like Rohan Kanhai much before him. There are those twirling wrists and twinkling feet, and an economy of movement that makes him look a sub-continental batsman.
He offered a shining account into his stroke-play through both sides of the wicket. Instructive of his quality was a cover-drive off Dom Bess, a difficult shot against an off-spinner on a turning surface. He cut with soft hands and drove with a firm front-foot stride.
His 76-run stand with Kraigg Brathwaite in 22.3 overs swung the momentum decisively after Sam Curran had Shai Hope caught behind off a cutter that gripped the surface like a spinner’s. England sensed a collapse, but Brathwaite and Brooks allayed the fears.
Brathwaite is a nuggety batsman blessed with obscene powers of concentration. He usually lays siege, but on Sunday he was more attacking than he usually is. He didn’t attempt anything remotely silly, but he was clinical in punishing loose deliveries. When the counter-punching chance presented itself, he didn’t shrink. Like when Broad struck his pads with successive nip-backers, both quite close, but he retorted immediately with a pair of lovely on-drives. He didn’t let Broad’s aggression daunt him.
Against a batsman with a minimal front-foot stride and a low-slung back-lift, England hardly tested him with full-length deliveries in the corridor in the morning. He was barely lulled into a drive or a forward defensive stroke, the ploy made to look more bizarre because the ball was moving around. Rather they fed him back-of-length deliveries that he comfortably dealt on the back-foot on a surface bereft of disconcerting pace. Finally, he perished trying to work Ben Stokes off his hips in the second session.
It was all sweat and labour for England’s bowlers. The third day entirely washed out, they required a flurry of wickets to set the tempo. But they couldn’t bargain any success until the intervention of Dom Bess, 45 minutes into the session. By that time, Brathwaite and Alzarri Joseph had exasperated the Englishmen with a chancy partnership of 54.
But Bess could inflict no further damage on a surface than gripped and turned. He kept the scoring quiet, six overs costing only 11 runs, but England would have rather swapped his economy for wickets. In the end, it was down to Broad to impact the match. And in one stupendous session of play, he bowled England into a position from which, if they can only keep their heads, they could complete a remarkable triumph.
Brief Scores: England 469/9dec & 37/2 lead West Indies 287 (Brathwaite 75, Brooks 68, Chase 51; Broad 3/66, Woakes 3/42) by 219 runs at stumps on Day 4.