Published on August 29th, 2017 | by Arunabha Sengupta0
Delicious drama builds up at Headlingley as West Indies run out of steam
36 summers earlier, Headingley had witnessed one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of Test cricket. Following on, 7 down with 92 more runs required to make Australia bat again, Ian Botham had famously scripted a miracle while Denis Lillee and Rod Marsh had made infamous fortunes by betting against their own side at odds of 500-1.
The drama that has built up this time around at the historic venue is perhaps of a lesser stature. Neither is it absolutely certain that England are destined to win the Test after coming back from the brink of defeat. Yet, there are indeed similarities.
169 behind in the first innings, they lost 3 wickets before reaching 100 in the second innings, including the enormously important one of Alastair Cook. The flamboyant Joe Root played his hand to wipe out the deficit, but he fell at 212. And then Ben Stokes and Dawid Malan, in hugely contrasting styles, carried the hosts past 300.
Of course, the West Indian fielders did lend their hands with seeming eagerness to help England get to safety. Root and Malan both enjoyed lives that could have a huge bearing on the result of the match.
But the drama was just about beginning. In a brief period of 6 and a half overs, England lost Stokes, Malan and Johnny Bairstow, the last named to a curious reverse sweep. All the wickets went to off-spinner Roston Chase. From 303 for 4 it was down to 327 for 7. The lead was just 158.
And then there was a partnership, if not to rival then at least remind one of the legendary association of Botham and Graham Dilley in 1981. Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes added 117 runs in just 23.2 overs, and the match was turned on its head. It was during this period of the day’s play that the Bank Holiday crowd were provided the most memorable entertainment.
From the point of view of the game, it hauled a tottering England firmly back into the driver’s seat. From the point of view of the spectators, it was a much needed display of strokeplay after Malan had crawled most of the day to inch his way to 61 from 186 deliveries.
It was perhaps to the disadvantage of West Indies that by the time Chase delivered his triple break, the three-pronged pace attack was exhausted. However, curiously, even the spectacular success of Chase did not prompt Jason Holder to turn to the other tweaker in the outfit, Devendra Bishoo. Instead Kemar Roach was brought back and Moeen promptly greeted him with three majestic boundaries.
After tea, Holder curiously continued to bank on his pacemen from one end. His choice of end was also surprising. The tired trio ran up the hill. The first four overs after tea bowled from that end yielded 45 runs and balance was restored.
In the meantime, Bishoo, finally given a bowl, got Moeen caught behind, but the batsman survived through a rather debatable call of no-ball by umpire S Ravi.
With Kraigg Braithwaite rolling his arm over, sending down an over of absolute rubbish, it looked as if the thus-far spirited West Indian show was meandering to an uninspired fizzle-out. Moeen sparkled at the expense of a progressively insipid bowling line up, while Woakes handsomely underlined the virtues of batting long and deep.
The former was spectacular with his drives, while the latter was more restrained but not far behind. By the time Moeen fell, heaving Bishoo high towards the leg-side boundary, he had 84 from just 93 balls to his credit.
That was not the end of the agony for the West Indians. Stuart Broad came out to help Woakes add 46 more before Root called his men in to have a go at the tired visitors.
True, the West Indians did not lose a wicket in the six overs bowled. However, they scored just 5 runs. Which is perhaps a sign that they consider the target of 322 formidable, if not totally unattainable, and safety-first is the approach they are likely to adopt.
The turnaround from a near-certain victory to a defensive position is not the best news for a side wading through a string of ignoble losses. They may well be at an end of ideas, and if the plan remains to survive at any cost, the fifth day pitch at Headingley can prove to be a troublesome one.
The only side who have overcome a 300-plus fourth innings target at the ground were the Invincibles under Don Bradman in 1948. Given the recent record of the men from the Caribbean, it seems rather far-fetched to think of them as likely to repeat the feats of that great side. Besides, the success of Chase has definitely whetted the appetite of Moeen, and this exceedingly useful stalwart may finish with yet another all-round show by exploiting the wear and tear of the fifth day wicket.
It had been an encouraging display by the West Indians for the first three days, but the England side is a formidable one. The spirit of the rather limited touring side seems to have run out halfway into the fourth day. One only hopes that the batsmen can continue the impressive show in the first innings and make a dramatic battle out of it on the final day.