West Indies batsmen need to understand the frailties in their technique and the English bowlers’ skills to bring the ball back into them if they want to stand any chance to win or draw the series.
Yes, the West Indies have lost a golden opportunity to make sure they will take the Wisden Trophy back home in the second Test itself. Yes, the West Indies squandered the best opportunity in decades to put Englishmen under the hammer for a long time in the series and also, the windies may have also blown away the chance of handing out England a rare and crushing feat – a series loss at home. But, if one has to get into the shoes of Jason Holder on the plane to the United Kingdom for this series, it is hard to believe he would not have pleasantly accepted the current scoreline going into the third and decider Test of the series that has raised hopes for cricket fans and also shown the way for other boards that cricket will not be dead and the game, like all other aspects of the world and society, will go on, albeit not without accepting the new normal being left behind by the coronavirus pandemic.
Like all other defeats, the loss at Old Trafford has taught West Indies some lessons and the Men in Maroon would help themselves by recognising those lessons given by a loss they could not prevent even with the help of rain god that washed away a whole day’s play in Manchester. Jason Holder and his men would learn that while the fifties from the top order batsmen would keep you in the game, it would never give you a definite point of ascendency in a Test match from where you could start dictating terms in that Test match. They must have also got reminded to a perpetual lesson in Test Cricket that a poor session in either department, especially in Batting will leave you so behind in the match that only an unlikely rise of a hero can prevent you from complete demolition at the hands of your opponent.
Three of the top six batsmen in the West Indies – Kraigg Braithwaite, Shamarh Brooks, and Roston Chase faced more than 80 balls but could not stitch long enough partnerships or score centuries for themselves that could have put England under pressure for a long time. Both Chase and Brooks were caught rooted to the crease against incoming deliveries from Woakes and Broad. West Indies batsmen need to understand the frailties in their technique and the English bowlers’ skills to bring the ball back into them if they want to stand any chance to win or draw the series.
England, on the other hand, had too many positives from the Manchester Test. They started solidly but fell prey to innocuous back to back deliveries from a nonchalant off-spinner Roston Chase. While Rory Burns fell playing for a spin against a delivery that did not turn and went station with the arm, Zak Crawley who was promoted to number 3 by the English team management in place of an out of form Joe Denly, turned around a gentle off spinning ball to Jason Holder at the leg slip on the very first ball of the session. The team stuck to its strategies of bowling in-dippers to Kraigg Braithwaite and Roston Chase who have a tendency of not committing their shots or defence on the front foot and playing late from the crease.
The start was decent but was derailed by some disciplined bowling and just when the West Indies would have thought that they can get amongst the English middle and lower-middle order, Ben Stokes, like he has done so many times in the last few years, dug in to thwart any chance of them running through the English batting line up. Stokes and Dominic Sibley played with exemplary patience and showed an immense level of hunger to deny Windies any chance of doing what the did in Southampton by bowling out England cheaply at a sub-standard score.
Ben Stokes, who was called ‘Mr. Incredible’ by Joe Root in the post-match press conference showed that he is the man of all seasons for his side. Call him to rescue the team when the ball starts nipping around and the captain has just been taken out by inducing a drive away from his body or call him to destroy the opposition’s strategies and zeal amid the fading light on the fourth day of a Test match, he will put his head down and by the time he will decide to put his bat or bowl up, the team will be in a certain commanding position. Batting more than 350 balls in the first innings for 176 runs showed he had the game of perseverance, patience, and determination while the 57-ball-78 in the second innings re-emphasized his belligerence and domination game.
On paper, the English bowling department looked thin but that can never stop bowlers from pitching their bowl up to the batsmen. Stuart Broad, recovering from his gutted feeling when he was dropped for the Southampton Test, from the outset, looked to bring the ball back into batsmen with a clear-headed approach. Broad, is known for taking wickets in clusters when things start going for him and it was him with the spell of 3 for 1 in the afternoon session of the fourth day turned the tables around for England and provided Joe Root with a real chance to go for an all-out attack in batting to set up a match-winning total.
The strategy of declaring just at the right time when they could make use of the second new ball available after 80 overs was on Joe Root’s mind when he asked Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes to open and go berserk from the start of the inning.
Manchester Test- England’s Probable XI
Joe Root and the head coach Chris Silverwood are unlikely to fiddle with the batting order with Sibley scoring a crucial hundred in the second Test. Zak Crawley failed in Manchester Test but it is highly unlikely that the team management would not put its trust behind him. Rory Burns is in search of good runs after missing out in the first two test matches of the series and the Surrey batsman would want to stand up tall when all will matter in the third test when Wisden Trophy is on the line.
In the Bowling department, there are some definitive changes on cards. After serving a suspension of one Test following his breach of the bio-secure protocols, Jofra Archer has been cleared to take part in the third Test and he is most likely to walk back into the XI.
After being rested from the second Test along with Mark Wood, James Anderson is the second pacer with a certain place in the XI. Stuart Broad, with an impressive performance of 6 wickets in the last Test should be able to retain his place in the XI but the presence of other potent pacers in Mark Wood, Chris Woakes and all-rounder Sam Curran gives the England team management a problem of plenty going into the third Test at Old Trafford.
Chris Silverwood has hinted for going with the best English attack to win the Wisden Trophy and hence his choice of bowlers for the third Test will also suggest the standings of bowlers in the English ranks.
Manchester Test- West Indies’ Probable XI
West Indies team is likely to field an unchanged batting line up in the third Test. Although Shai Hope has had a torrid run in the red-ball cricket and Windies legend Andy Roberts has suggested the team management to give him rest to not destroy him and preserve him for the future, it is highly unlikely that Jason Holder will not put his money on Shai Hope to come good in the most important match of the series.
In the bowling department as well, West Indies are all but certain to play the pace trio of Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach, and Alzarri Joseph in the Manchester Test. The team had some concerns in the last Test when both Gabrel and Joseph went out of the filed with some niggles but the team’s assistant coach Roddy Estwick ruled out any major injuries to the duo. He also backed the experience of the seam attack to come good in fitness and said that the team management will sit down with them to have a proper discussion on their state of bodies.
Manchester Test- England’s players to watch out for
If one has to apply the law of average, Ben Stokes has to have an awful game at the Old Trafford but that law applies to average and good players. Ben Stokes of now has crossed that level in the last few years and hence backing him to come good is an easier and rational expectation than predicting his failures.
Joe Root did not have an impactful match with the bat in the second Test and was dismissed in the fashion he would not be proud of. He would love to put all that behind him and score some runs at number four to provide that missing stability in the English to order.
James Anderson would have enjoyed bowling at the Old Trafford pitch in the second Test but was rested by the team management in view of workload management. He would be raring to go on his home ground in search of an elusive 600- wickets landmark. He too had a sub-standard performance in Southampton where England lost the match and he would like to turn it around for both himself and his team to win the Wisden Trophy.
Manchester Test- West Indies’ players to watch out for
Shamarh Brooks in the four innings he had batted in this series has shown his repertoire of shots and also his temperament. He has scored three fifties in the four innings of this series but could not convert the starts into a big hundred. He has been found wanting in footwork and caught in the crease in three of his four dismissals so far. He would like to tweak his technique a bit and also get a big one in Manchester that can put West Indies in a good position in the Manchester Test.
Shai Hope has had an abysmal phase in his Test career following his twin centuries at Headingley in West Indies’ famous win in 2018. The debate and discussions around his place in the team are gathering pace and he would love to put all of that to rest with a sizeable contribution in the third Test.
After going wicketless for a long time leading up to the second morning in the last Test, Kemar Roach struck twice with the wickets of Stokes and Woakes in the first innings followed by Buttler and Crawley in the second when English batsmen were in for some quick runs to set up the declaration. He has a good record against England and he would like to add some numbers into his wicket column and resurrect his bowling figures in this Test series.
Pitch and Weather
The pitch used in the last Test match offered a bit for everyone. It had decent carry and support for the seam bowlers while the dampness on the first day provided Roston Chase with some spin and the fast outfield provided batsmen value for their strokes. With another match to be played on the same ground due to the Covid-19 protocols and a likelihood of the use of another strip for this Test, the pitch may provide a bit more pace than the last Test match.
The weather holds the key for both the teams in Manchester as the chance of precipitation is very high from the second day onwards. A full day is possible for the first day but the same can’t be said about the remaining four days looking at the weather forecast.
If the weather holds up and allows the game to go even for four days, it will be a riveting contest between the two sides looking to win the match and that will give the Joe Root’s England chance to snatch the Wisden Trophy from Jason Holder’s West Indies or allow the men in Maroon to take it back to their homes.