West Indies were so deplorable at Edgbaston that a comeback in the series looked like a far-fetched dream. This early judgement took a beating the moment Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel ran in with purpose and broke open England’s top order.
The hosts were 37/3 at one point and despite Root and Stokes putting up a defiant partnership, the West Indies bowlers always looked in business although their fielders let them down on several occasions.
Roach and Gabriel shared four apiece and devoured England’s pretty long tail to bowl them out for 258.
Although half the job was done, West Indies still needed to bat well on a seaming pitch against one of the best bowling attacks in Test cricket today. And to everyone’s surprise, they did. Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope turned up in a Chanderpaul mask and put on a defiant, yet positive and match turning partnership on day 2.
Although James Anderson added three more to his wicket tally to ensure he gets closer to the 500 wicket mark before the Ashes, the duo helped the visitors rise from 35/3 to 329/5 by stumps on day 2.
It was telling how Brathwaite and Hope started off their partnership. At the beginning of their enterprising and hope evoking partnership, the duo scored boundaries in eight consecutive overs, disrupting the rhythm of the English bowlers. Anything short and wide or too full were dispatched with concise timing and placement.
Brathwaite, previously criticised for his dour approach, looked in great nick on day 2 and guided his younger partner all the way. In the 33rd over, Brathwaite was given out by the on-field umpire when Moeen Ali struck him on the pads but successfully reviewed and overturned the decision. He followed it up with a massive six over mid-wicket the very next ball to complete a fine half-century.
Boundaries continued to flow as Hope joined Brathwaite in dispatching anything off the mark. Nine boundaries were scored in between overs 36 and 50 as West Indies looked set to send the England fielders leather hunting.
It was encouraging signs for the Windies as the opening batsman and the young middle-order batsman negotiated bowler friendly conditions early on before cashing in when the sun came out. Both were helped by their solid techniques, which relied on playing the ball late and with soft hands. This ploy helped avert slip catches many times as the soft edges went short of the slip fielders.
Yet at no stage did the two looked bogged down. They cashed in every time the England bowlers erred in line and length and batted with confidence and purpose, something which has been lacking in their game since the Sharjah Test where they beat Pakistan.
Ironically, Brathwaite played an important role even then, scoring an unbeaten 142 on that occasion. Hope, highly rated in local circles despite his meagre returns stat-wise till this point, appeared quite in control and aided Brathwaite in building a decisive partnership.
Brathwaite completed his sixth Test hundred off 189 balls once again off a six, this time off part-timer, Tom Westley as West Indies stamped home their authority in the game. Hope was by then almost matching Brathwaite shot for shot and the 150 run stand came up in no time. Brathwaite’s ton was only the second by a Windies opener in England since 1989.
Root, probably just for the second time in his short captaincy career, looked lost for ideas. Two overs after Shai Hope completed his maiden Test hundred, the partnership crossed double hundred. Since Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Denesh Ramdin compiled a 200 run stand in Hamilton against New Zealand, West Indies’ highest partnership in Tests had been 182.
This partnership, particularly coming in bowler friendly conditions against the likes of Broad, Anderson, Woakes and Stokes would go a long way in giving this depleted line-up some hope for the future. Broad eventually ended the stand when he had Brathwaite bowled for 134 but the 246 run partnership had by then taken West Indies into the lead.
It was significant progress for a side that struggled to middle anything at Edgbaston. Rightfully, the fight stemmed from their only player to have 2000+ runs in Test cricket, Kraigg Brathwaite. He had able support from Shai Hope at the other end and although still early in his career, Hope has shown good temperament and composure alongside a decent technique to suggest that he is here to stay.
West Indies cricket need more of such partnership and more of such coordinated work from the batsmen and bowlers to test England in this tour. The battle is still far from won and with their firefighter at Edgbaston, Jermaine Blackwood, in alongside Shai Hope, who is unbeaten on 147, and the likes of Jason Holder and Shane Dowrich to follow, they have the batting to put pressure on England.