Cricket is back and how! The first test between England and West Indies at Southampton did not quite pack the ideal atmosphere. The match was, after all, played in an empty stadium. However this did not impact the quality of cricket, as the game turned out to be a hard-fought contest with the visitors emerging victorious on the final day.
There is much to admire about Jason Holder and his team. The West Indians have been perennial underperformers in all formats except T20 since the turn of the century. Yet, in recent times they’ve been consistently punching above their weight in the five-day game. While all the superstars of the Caribbean have remained preoccupied with franchise T20 cricket, the humble test side has slowly and steadily carved itself into a formidable unit. Today they boast of a pace attack that is as daunting as any on the planet, and are led by a man who, apart from being one of the finest all-rounders in the world today, is blessed with a calm and collected head on his shoulders.
The English, led by stand-in captain Ben Stokes, made a couple of contentious decisions on day one. The first was to leave veteran pacer Stuart Broad out of the side, giving preference to the extra pace provided by Mark Wood. Wood had an ordinary game, returning two wickets at an economy above 3. The second was winning the toss and choosing to bat in conditions that could be termed Jimmy Anderson‘s paradise. In hindsight, one wonders if the outcome of the game would’ve been different had it not been for these two calls.
However one mustn’t take anything away from West Indies, who remained resilient throughout. The bowlers capitalised on the conditions and skittled England for an uninspiring 204. Skipper Holder led from the front with six scalps, while Shannon Gabriel got the remaining four. They then went on to notch up a first innings lead of 114, thanks to half centuries by opener Kraigg Brathwaite and wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich.
The hosts put up a much improved batting performance in the second innings and set the West Indies a tricky target of 200 on the last day. Young middle-order batsman Zak Crawley starred with an impressive 76, while Gabriel added another five wickets to his match tally. In reply, the Windies stuttered a bit at the start, but a composed 95 by Jermaine Blackwood saw them through.
Coming in to bat at a precarious 27 for 3, Blackwood steadied the ship along with Roston Chase. The West Indies were only 11 runs away from victory when Blackwood was finally dismissed, falling short of a well deserved hundred by just five runs. Captain Holder remained unbeaten at the crease as the Windies reached the target and secured an overseas test match win that will be remembered for a long time.
Paceman Shannon Gabriel was named the man of the match for his nine wickets in the game.
The West Indies now lead the #RaiseTheBat series 1-0, with two more tests to go. England will be looking to pull things back in the second test at Old Trafford. The good news for them is their captain and batting mainstay Joe Root will return to the side after missing the first test, which means Joe Denly is likely to sit out. Mark Wood is also expected to make way for Stuart Broad into the XI.
The second test begins on Thursday, July 16. Indian fans can catch live action on Sony SIX or SonyLIV.
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