Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler rescue England on Day 1……
I always wish that a West Indies return to glory days will take place at Sabina Park at Jamaica, one of the most historic and famous stadiums in cricket history. It had been the venue where West Indies lost their throne to Australia. No Kingdom lasts forever. No ruler rules for eternity. The dominance of West Indies had to come to an end. For the fans, it was unexpected as they were not habituated to it. But it happened at Sabina Park in 1995 and since then, I firmly believed, Sabina Park should be the ideal place for the revival of Caribbean cricket.
But Saint Lucia has earned the honours of hosting Test matches these days at a regular interval. Historically, this venue does not have an enriched Test history like Sabina Park. Nor do they have iconic players like other islands of West Indies. They do have someone named Darren Sammy, but he is just a famous showman in shorter-format of the game. On July 21, 2016, Saint Lucia Cricket Stadium was renamed as the Darren Sammy Cricket Ground after Darren Sammy helped West Indies to lift the World Twenty20 in 2016.
I could not understand how a Test venue could hold the name of a cricketer, who is not much interested to feature in Test cricket. In fact, he is not a quality Test cricketer. Nevertheless, Saint Lucia is a very beautiful stadium. One can enjoy the best of facilities in this stadium, which was built in 2002. And, it is the venue for the third Test between West Indies and England as well. The West Indies would lift the Wisden Trophy on this venue and not Jamaica as already, they have sealed the series by 2-0.
But this Test is supposed to be a test of character for England batsmen. Since the first Test commenced at Bridge Town Barbados, the adventurous batting of England came under serious criticisms. On testing tracks, neither attack not counterattack would bore enough fruits until and unless, you show enough resolve. The kind of bowling England faced in previous two Test matches; it required the highest quality of technique and temperament, which England lacked.
England included Keaton Jennings instead of Ben Foakes, the man who had a very impressive start to his Test career and seems to have a very good technique. But Jennings was favoured, which was baffling. Jennings wanted to make his opportunity count. His intention to occupy the crease was never solid, but shaky. Finally his painful stay came to an end – a loose drive against Keemo Paul, the replacement of Jason Holder, cut short Jennings’ 43-ball 8 runs. How long England will persist with Jennings remains a moot question!
As time progressed, 30 for 1 became 69 for 3 and then 107 for 4. Joe Root was Alzarri Jaoseph’s bunny again while the rest of top order failed to convert their starts into big ones. In fact, the kind of attacking line-and-length Paul, Shannon Gabriel, Joseph and Roach were bowling, the English top order batters did not have the right approach to counter such.
Thankfully, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler – two of the most attacking batsmen in world cricket these days, decided to curb their natural stroke-making-intent and drop down the anchor. And it paid off.
They scripted the longest and most important partnership of this tour on Day 1. A defiant 124-run stand for fifth wicket arrested a collapse. Even though their innings was not chanceless – Buttler dropped at 0 and Stokes walked towards the dressing room before being recalled after Joseph was seen to have overstepped – but their resolve sucked the energy out of West Indies bowling.
According to Cricviz, “Buttler judged the West Indies bowlers’ lengths exceptionally, opting to not attack a single ball pitching between 6.7, and 8.5m – the in-between length that has caused England batsmen so many problems in the series up to now. Stokes had an even bigger zone of reticence, not attacking anything between 5.7m and 8.8m”.
Later on, the day, while speaking to media, Stokes said, “I actually looked at some footage of me at Lord’s (vs New Zealand in 2015) this morning. I’ve been thinking about going back to that technique: straightening my feet up and batting with an off stump guard. I’ve been working with Mark Ramprakash [the batting coach] on it for the last couple of days”.
“I was just trying to find some levelness: not being too aggressive, but not being too defensive. I thought I had been a bit stuck over the last couple of months. Watching myself at Lord’s did me the world of good”.
England finally realized the importance of exhibiting resolve and composure according to demand of situation and England fans would expect a similar sort of approach on Day 2 as well.