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England v West Indies, 1st Test: Jermaine Blackwood matters

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Few months before the Test series, Jermaine Blackwood finished the West Indies four-day championship as the highest run-scorer with 768 runs at an average of 51.2. He made a mammoth 248 in his final game of the tournament against Leeward Islands to go past three other players including veteran batsman Devon Smith in the run-scorers chart.

The double hundred was as important to Blackwood as any knock in his career thus far. Without it, a Test discard, he wouldn’t have been in England for this tour. Without it, he wouldn’t have backed himself to take his team home in a similar situation even if by a rare stroke of luck he had squeezed into the touring party and starting XI. 

Something changed for Blackwood in that double hundred and he gives a lot of credit for that to Devon Smith. 

“I told him [Smith] every time when I’m in the 80s or 50s I just get out very softly and he [said] ‘Just stay calm, try to score, don’t overthink the situation’,” Blackwood told Starcom Radio’s Mason and Guest Cricket Show after his double ton.

Jermaine Blackwood ducks on his way to a match-winning knock

It was indeed a frustrating series of scores for Blackwood. Since touching the three-figure mark in April 2015 against England – still his only Test ton – Blackwood went 126 innings and five years without a century at first-class level. But it wasn’t like he wasn’t making runs. He crossed the half-century mark 26 times, was dismissed in his 90s thrice and in his 80s four times. He just didn’t know how to get to the coveted three-figure mark.

“[Smith told me] ‘The same way you approach 50, is the same way you’re supposed to approach getting a hundred’. That helped to motivate me.”

Blackwood had a spring in his steps as he approached the big landmark against Leeward Islands in March this year. He thumped two back-to-back boundaries to go from 93 to a century and at 196 the next day, he hit another four to get to his double century.  

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This was a failed International player continuing to back his own methods while realising what he needed to be wouldn’t be achieved by changing what he is. 

“Being dropped helped me to go back and work on my game and my mental space, and to come back strong. It wasn’t anything too much to do with the technical aspect of batting, just some little tweaks. But the mental side, I had to change a bit. I did a lot of reading just to help my mental space going forward. That’s really helped me. The new way going forward for me is to just to bat as long as possible,” Blackwood said in an interview with ESPNCricinfo.

Blackwood had breached the three-figure mark and came to England with confidence bubbling. But what he really achieved that day was that he didn’t need the validation of a hundred anymore. 

He would still go for a very Blackwood-shot on 95 with his team just 11 runs away from a historic win at Ageas Bowl. He would get out too. But unlike the Blackwood of old, he wouldn’t fret over this dismissal. He had gotten there by trusting his new game – the patience game – and had learned from a dismal shot selection in the first innings. Importantly, he had put his team on the brink of a win.

That’s exactly what you can expect from Blackwood in the future too. He isn’t going to cover up for the failure of your most talented batsman or be a part of what the team calls the “engine room” [Chase, Dowrich, Holder] of West Indies’ batting line-up.

 

Jermaine Blackwood will frustrate you. He will enthrall you. He will bring out the best and worst in you if you are a West Indies fan. Contrary to the general notion around him, Blackwood isn’t a mere basher. He isn’t all about patience and perseverance either. He owns both games and on some days like at Ageas Bowl on Sunday, he finds the right balance between the two. On other days, he could invite massive criticism for appalling shots like in the first innings. But in a Test batting line-up where reputations are high and returns starkly low, Blackwood matters. More so now, when he has achieved a personal zen, than ever.