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England v West Indies, 2nd Test, Day One: Where West Indies might have already lost the Test

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Sport can be cruel. One day you are basking in the glory of a rare away win in a top nation; you are chuckling at the site of the opposition’s best pace bowler committing a mind-blowing school-boyish error to walk out of the game; you walk in for the toss looking at the skies and recalling the twitchy smile on Shannon Gabriel’s face; you remember the helpless look on your opposite number’s face as you snaffled him twice in the first Test; you look down from near the top of the bowling rankings at some big names desperately trying to rise up the ladder; and you walk in and without a thought in the world choose to bowl first. 

Only Jason Holder, excellent a captain as he is, does not probably realise he is fighting history here or he does realise, and believes he has the bowling attack to change that narrative. In the last 19 Tests at Old Trafford no captain has won the toss and opted to bowl, a record that stretches back to 1993, a time when Holder was still in his nappies. The first error was made right then.

He can’t be blamed for trusting his pace attack. They had enough range to hustle England’s ordinary batting line-up at Southampton and there’s no reason to believe otherwise here. Only that by six overs on day 1, Holder is kind of already regretting his decision. He has Alzarri Joseph and himself running in already after a pretty innocuous start by his new ball bowlers. 

As lunch closes in, he realises West Indies are already on the wrong foot and gives an obligatory over to the spinner, fully realising that he’s putting his ego on the line, admitting that he made a folly at the toss and hoping that his very average spinner can give them a miracle. He does. Not once, but twice on either side of the lunch break. 

Soon, Joseph had Joe Root edging to the cordon and West Indies are probably already thinking of how to go about their innings with the bat. But Ben Stokes – that man again – and Dom Sibley have no intention of letting this narrative drift further. They defy the Windies, bore their bowling attack and literally ground them down. The second error, that was made way before the toss, popped up just then.

The new bio-secure environment and quick turnaround between matches mean that the bowling attack is often still recuperating from the last Test. Recovery time is minimal and rotating the pace bowlers could be the new order of the day. England, helped by external factors, the age of their lead pacers and their own realisation of the changing times, are fielding an entirely fresh pace attack. West Indies, on the other hand, not only pick the same four pacers but also ask them to bowl first, giving them no time at all to recover. 

It was perhaps then no surprise that the fast bowler who bowled the least number of overs at Southampton did the best here – Alzarri Joseph. It was also not surprising that the bowler who was coming off the back of an injury was the most wayward and later walked off the field. 

ALSO READ: SECOND TEST, DAY ONE REPORT

Now, the West Indies go into day two with lots of scenarios stacked against them. 

  • England are only three down with two set batsmen, including the dynamic Ben Stokes, at the crease. They have a rampant Jos Buttler waiting to prove a point with Chris Woakes and Sam Curran to come at no.8 and 9. 
  • West Indies have a tired bowling attack already and will be up against history as no team has won after conceding 250 or more in the first innings after putting the opposition in to bat in England since 2010.

  • They will have to bat last on a wicket that is already sluggish with England having Sam Curran to provide footholes for Dom Bess to bowl to.

A few apparently minor errors have already seen the dynamics of this Test match, and perhaps series, tilt England’s way despite the quandary they found themselves in right before this Test. If it comes down to where the Test was won or lost, it is rather unlikely that some of these points from day one do not come up.