After an absorbing day of cricket, England will head into day three with a 437 lead, thanks in large part to the play of opener Dom Sibley and talisman Ben Stokes. Both players dug in during the morning session to ensure there would be no repeat of the middle-order collapse we saw in Southampton last week where England lost 5 wickets for just 30 runs.
With both Sibley and Stokes picking their shots and frustrating the bowlers into drifting into their preferred area, both players reached their centuries with Ben Stokes going on to make his 2nd highest test score of 176. As watchful as he was in the morning, Stokes showed why he's one of the most versatile and one of the most dangerous batsmen in the afternoon session as he effortless clubbed the West Indies tired bowlers around Old Trafford, raising his strike rate from the late '30s to mid-'90s.
With the score passing 400, England started to accelerate knowing that they wanted a good hour or so to have a go at the West Indies in the failing light. Jos Buttler put up a respectable and controlled 40 with a strike rate of 50, but it was Dom Bess who really put the icing on the cake with a starring cameo of 31 runs off just 26 balls.
Having to face 16 overs of England bowlers with their tails up, the West Indies started confidently enough, but they were unable to see it through to close without losing a wicket. Sam Curran who so often gets the breakthrough at home and who had caused Steve Smith some serious trouble in last years ASHES was the man to get it. Shaping a beautiful ball into the pads of John Campbell, he had the West Indian opener bang in-front, but the umpire kept his hands in his pocket. Root sent it upstairs, and sure enough three reds signalled the end of Campbells short stay at the crease. Curran should have had night watchmen Alzarri Joseph as well, with the ball flicking the bottom of his pads, but Root chose not to review this one and the West Indian bowler will open day 3 with Kraigg Brathwaite.
Dom Sibley's century is his 2nd ton in just 8 games as an England player, and although he's not the most expansive batsmen, the young Warwickshire man is showing plenty of development over his young England career. Having been caught down the leg-side on numerous occasions, Sibley did a much better job of getting out of the way and leaving tempting deliveries at his ribs. He also didn't nibble outside off-stump, which forced the bowlers to stray onto his pads, an area where he's confident of scoring plenty of runs. Sibley was only despatched back to the changing room as he tried to up the tempo, you have to imagine that had the game not been restricted to 5 days, Sibley would still be batting while we ate our Christmas turkey. Sibley who has now passed 500 test runs is only the 5th English opener to score two test centuries before turning 25, the others being Alaistair Cook, Len Hutton, Michael Atherton and Geoffrey Boycott, not bad company to keep.
With the weather set to be highly disruptive to the game tomorrow with heavy rain forecast throughout the day, England will be hoping to make progress into the meat of the West Indies order. Although England put up 469 runs, the Old Trafford pitch is far from dead. There was plenty of movement through the air for the seamers, some uneven bounce and plenty of turn and bounce for the spinners. If we can squeeze in a few hours play tomorrow, England will be confident of making some progress.
Although Michael Holding found the morning session rather dull, commenting that it was that kind of cricket that drove people away from the game, I thought the attritional battle was incredibly fascinating and England to their credit played the day exactly as they should have. Build, accelerate, declare, attack. They built a good lead, they accelerated to put the Windies on the back foot, they declared at the perfect time and they got an important wicket before the end of the day. Perfect.