They both began on the same day. Thursday, August 22 was the first day of India vs the West Indies (WI) in the first Test match at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua; simultaneously, it was the first day of the third Test match of the England vs Australia ‘Ashes’ series at the Headingley Cricket Ground in Leeds, England.
Both captains, Jason Holder of WI and Joe Root of England won the toss and sent their opponents in to bat. The Aussies collapsed to a score of 179 which vindicated Root’s decision while Holder’s West Indians would have been quite happy with a close of 203 for 6, although they might have been hoping for something better, having Virat Kohli and his men reeling at 25 for 3 then at 93 when the fourth wicket fell.
At Leeds, as well as in Antigua, the day was interrupted by repeated showers. Nonetheless, the two captains would have been happy with their choice to field first upon winning the toss. The similarities on the first day ended on this note.
Archer and a beach ball
The huge contrast in these two games was in the crowd attendance at their respective venues. Leeds was sold out in an attendance of 20,000 —a capacity crowd. The atmosphere was merry, with fans dressed in various disguises and costumes which maintained joie de vivre among the crowd.
For example, during the game a rather large beach ball found its way out of the stands onto the field and into the hands of a security attendant. Of course, he was pleasantly booed by that section of the crowd when Jofra Archer, the successful fast bowler from Barbados, ran from his position at the end of the over, took the ball very gently from the attendant and flung it back into the crowd. That alone made him even more popular with English crowds.
The modern-day British cricket fan seems to enjoy his day at the cricket far more than his colleague of yesteryear. And they were so delighted with the collapse of the batting of their archenemy on the first day.
Conversely, across the miles in Antigua the atmosphere was nil as the ‘crowd’ was not even good enough to be called ‘poor’! Without trying to be facetious there were probably more cricketers on the field than people in the stands, it was so bad! There was no joy for there was no one from which to emanate that emotion.
India must have thought they were playing in the US or Russia or any non-cricket country; for a Test match in the WI to be played with the number one team in the world, including personalities like Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja, in front of no one at the headquarters of Cricket West Indies is embarrassing.
Throughout the four days the both games lasted, the crowd at Leeds was filled, while the one in Antigua improved only slightly to a few hundred. It was depressing!
The matches continued to grip the interested with drama and intrigue in the case of the Leeds game and with weariness and déjà vu at the Caribbean venue.
England were bowled for 67, giving the Aussies a lead of 112 on first innings. Can anyone imagine stumbling and hopping one’s way to 179 in the first innings of an ‘Ashes’ Test and earning a 112-run lead; that is miraculous!
Stokes saves England
Australia batsmen did not take full advantage of their lead and were 171 for 6 at the close of the second day. The third inning almost completed and it’s only the second day!
When one considered the rain interruptions on the first day this game seemed heading for an interesting finish, for there is no way one can expect England to crumble again the second time around.
And on Saturday, the third day, the determined cricketers of Britain knew that if the men from Down Under won this vital Test, it would mean that they (England) would not retrieve the precious Ashes.
England, at the end of day 3, with a target of 359 to win were 156 for 3. Tension is building and England sees itself with an outside chance but the Aussies were still in the driver’s seat.
Meanwhile WI in Antigua stuttered their way to 222, a deficit of 75 runs. India was well placed in the second innings on 185 for 3, a lead of 260 with 7 wickets in hand. WI has given up the game revealed by their downcast demeanor on the field.
Their target set in the final innings is 419 to win after Kohli declares. They dissolve for 100, their lowest score ever against India.
England, led by a century from Ben Stokes, reached their goal with 9 wickets down.
For England, it was the best of times; for WI, it was the worst of times!
England, led by a century from Ben Stokes, reached their goal with 9 wickets down. Image source: indiaexpress.com