By Bryan Davis, former West Indies, Test cricketer
It was a strange tour. West Indies (WI) agreed to tour England to play three Test matches in July 2020. No Test cricket had been played worldwide for 117 days!
After all was said and done, Cricket West Indies leapt at the invitation because the world was starved for cricket.
In the agreements that were hammered out it was going to be a tough and demanding time for the visitors as well as the home team. They would all have to be quarantined and live in lockdown circumstances for at least four weeks before the first Test was scheduled.
In this unique setting the WI were accommodated in Manchester at a hotel on the Old Trafford ground while England was camped at a hotel at the Ageas Bowl ground in Southampton.
Eventually, the first Test got cracking at Southampton and England batted first after Ben Stokes, acting for regular captain Joe Root, won the toss. The pitch was green plus the atmosphere heavy with low-hanging grey clouds and rain was falling intermittently. Miserable conditions to start a Test series.
However, the day was shortened by the weather and eventually the umpires called it a day after just 17.4 overs. Then, from the following day and throughout the game the sun hardly shone. This meant that the pitch retained its dampness from its preparation moisture and made batting an exercise in strenuousness and resilience. That pressure never eased and the side that applied itself appropriately to the state of the pitch emerged the winner.
Stokes’ decision on winning the toss gave WI the advantage which they almost threw away. England were bowled out for 204 and WI, in their turn at the crease, got to 318.
The skipper, Jason Holder, grabbed 6 wickets for 42 runs while Shannon Gabriel, bowling at great pace, removed 4 for 62. With the home team making 313 in their second innings, it left WI 200 to win. And this is where the first chink in the armour of WI batting revealed itself.
Before one had time to relax, have a drink, sit back and enjoy the comfortable defeat of England, the Caribbean batsmen were 27 for 3 and opener John Campbell not sure to return to bat with a busted toe, after retiring hurt. What a shambles! However, a peach of an innings by Jermaine Blackwood (95), with excellent support from Roston Chase (37) and a cool head by the captain at the end, saw WI home by 4 wickets.
The wicket was dicey, nonetheless, the English bowlers appeared more dangerous and penetrative than ours, plus their batting, knowing the conditions and with Joe Root due to return, gave one pause for reflection.
At this point I was concerned although we won the game. I knew they possessed a wider range of seam bowlers than we could summon, plus any team that could leave out Stuart Broad from a Test, especially in England, must have a dangerous set of attacking bowlers.
Holder and his head coach, Phil Simmons, plus the touring ‘think tank’ of coaches, played right into the hands of Root’s men, by winning the toss and sending them in to bat in the second Test match.
Did they really think by fielding first in the first Test that they would have that advantage again? I thought this seemed like schoolboy cricket.
The Englishmen, happy to have the opportunity to bat first and build a score, got to 469 for 9 declared. Of course, when WI team saw the innings slipping away there was the accustomed drooping of shoulders. We looked limp! One could almost visualise the match getting away from Holder!
And the star bowler from the first Test, the Man-of-the-Match Gabriel was off course slanting his deliveries everywhere but at the stumps.
Then the batting struggled although three of them scored fifties, to get to 287. The follow-on was saved, yet when England batted a second time, the tactics should have been; bowl negatively, defensive field placing.
A brisk 129 for 3 declared was enough for England to claim victory by 113 runs in four days as the third day was abandoned for rain.
I am writing this last Sunday and the final Test was not officially over but with WI having 389 runs to win, batting 10 runs for two wickets, it’s all over ‘bar the shouting’.
Again, the ‘think tank’ thought WI should field first which they did after winning the toss! Only rain can save the outright ownership of the Wisden trophy now!
WI are not up to the standard of England in English conditions, however, given all the brouhaha of this tour, with all the world cricket countries looking on, it was good to be part of it, because there hasn’t been any Test cricket for 117 days.
WI were outplayed in all departments, in batting; by concentration and patience, in bowling; by accuracy and skillful manipulation of the ball, in catching and ground fielding; by concentration, in captaincy; by tactical awareness.
A pity WI didn’t give the millions of starving spectators a better show for their time!