Stokes stars as England level series
Updated: Feb 19
At tea on day four you could be forgiven for thinking this match was going to simply peter out into a draw. However, what followed today was one of my favourite days' play in the last few years.
With Stokes and Root at the crease and two wickets down, tuning in this morning one would be forgiven for assuming an early collapse had occurred. This was in very different circumstances to the standard England top order crumble, in that Root had sent his premiere ball-strikers out late on the fourth evening in an attempt to force a result. The intent was clear from the outset when the two England men arrived at the crease before either the umpires or West Indies fielders. With the first ball of the day's play hit hard into the offside for one, they were off and running. 13 more runs followed in that over with Stokes clearing the ropes with a launched shot over long-off. Stokes was given a life on 29 when John Campbell put down a simple chance off a miscued shot. This allowed Stokes to make it through to his second fastest half-century and the fastest by an England opener in test matches. After sacrificing his wicket to give Stokes more of the strike Root eventually declared with a lead of 311 runs and giving the West Indies 85 overs to survive.
The West Indies reply started poorly with Campbell being dismissed by just the fifth ball, caught behind by Buttler off the returning Stuart Broad. A slightly odd dismissal as there were vociferous appeals from both the bowler and the slip cordon but nothing from Buttler. Eventually, Root reviewed with the countdown on zero but sure enough, there was a slight spike on Ultraedge and it was enough to send Campbell on his way. Kraigg Brathwaite was the West Indies main hope of saving the game with his brilliant defensive gameplan. That was not to be as the West Indies two centurions from the Headingley test of 2017 were dismissed within six balls of each other to leave the tourists 25 for the loss of those three wickets at lunch.
With Broad picking up the wicket of Roston Chase shortly after the lunch interval England was in the driving seat. What followed was a brilliant century partnership between Shamarh Brooks and Jermaine Blackwood that put England's hopes of forcing the victory in some danger. Blackwood played with a lot more freedom than his watchful innings at the Ageas Bowl in the first test. After coming to the crease on a pair after receiving an unplayable ball from Broad in the first innings that kept very low, he compiled an impressive half-century as did Brooks. Comparisons have been drawn between Brooks and Hashim Amla in their techniques and Brooks does a look a good player and at 31 years of age has the potential to be a solid player within the West Indies middle-order over the next few years.
To break this set partnership needed some magic and it was no surprise that it was provided by Ben Stokes. He had been bending his back in a sharp spell of short bowling and after chasing a ball off his own bowling down to the long-off boundary in vain, he struck with the last ball of the session. A brilliant bouncer that Blackwood could only fend off resulting in a good diving catch by Buttler moving well to his left.
Dowrich was dismissed in the first full over after tea. In doing so bagged a pair and reaffirmed suspicions that he has yet to perfect his technique in England. That left Holder and Brooks as the only real hope of saving the game and when Curran trapped Brooks in front it left England with an end open to target. Holder managed a couple of nice strokes against Bess before the England spinner ripped one back through the gate the game was effectively over. Alzarri Joseph failed to rein in his attacking intentions and could only slash that man Stokes to Bess behind point. Bess grabbed the final wicket thanks to some brilliant work from Ollie Pope at short leg when he managed to dive and take the catch off Roach's inside edge at the second attempt.
An enthralling day to cap off another exciting game in this series, leaving it all still to play for as the teams remain at Old Trafford to determine the winner of the Wisden Trophy. We go again on Friday...