We waited for it, and it delivered. England and the West Indies served up a classic Test match at the Ageas Bowl for the opening game of the series, as the tourists ran out four-wicket winners of a game that had it all.
It may not have been the result that we all hoped for, but the events of international cricket’s first bio-secure Test have set up a fascinating series. England will need to win both of the remaining two fixtures to reclaim the Wisden Trophy from their opponents, and it’s clear that the Windies aren’t going to make it easy.
What went well?
First things first, then. We got a Test match on after more than four months. The players, officials, and other members of the ‘bubble’ were kept safe. The weather came through for us after a shaky start. Both sides contributed to what was a thrilling five-day encounter.
Just because we’re having to wait a little longer for that first England victory does not mean there isn’t plenty to be delighted about. Social media, as always, will have its moaners but the vast majority of us can surely appreciate how good it is to have our sport back. Jason Holder, Shannon Gabriel, and Jermaine Blackwood all put in exceptional performances, and that should not be lost in the midst of a narrow England defeat.
There was also, however, plenty in there to suggest that England can bounce back. For one, Zak Crawley’s second-innings knock was probably the classiest he’s played in an England shirt. It’s a shame he fell when he did, as it exposed the batting order somewhat to a rampant West Indies bowling attack. You would think, however, that the Kent youngster has done enough to retain his spot for Old Trafford.
Watching Jofra Archer in the second innings was also exhilarating. He had an impact every time he ambled up to the wicket, unsettling the batsmen with his pace and aggression with remarkable ease and regularity. Perhaps he was a little off in the first innings, but he more than made up for it in the second. Whether or not Tino Best’s ill-informed comments on Twitter had anything to do with it is unknown, but John Campbell’s big toe served as a good example of why it’s best not to wind up someone with that amount of pace and accuracy.
What didn’t go so well?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and most would agree that Stuart Broad could have done some damage to the tourists’ batting line-up on the first two days of this Test match. The thinking behind the selection, however, was far from ridiculous. People often criticise England for a lack of pace and variation – ‘X Factor’, if you will – overseas, so it makes little sense to criticise them now for planning ahead.
Stokes’ decision to bat first has also been questioned, but once again it comes down to the end result over anything else. Had England managed 50 more first-innings runs, and had they held their catches in the second innings, they could well have won this game comfortably. Ultimately, one man’s decision at the toss does little to influence the performance of ten others over the course of five days. Mistakes are always highlighted in defeat and glossed over in victory; that is the nature of sport, and it’s important not to get too drawn in by that kind of narrative.
What happens next?
There’s little rest for either team, with the second Test starting on Thursday up in Manchester. Another bio-secure environment, Old Trafford represents an intriguing battle ground for the remaining two games of the series. With a pitch that generally offers something to the quicks, it will be fascinating to see whether England stick with Archer and Wood or elect to bring Broad back in. They could, of course, do both; Jimmy Anderson’s recent injury record could mean that he misses the middle Test, allowing his partner in crime to come in and lead the attack once again.
England need to bounce back, but they’ve done it countless times before. Cast your minds back to our last Test series – after all, few would have predicted a 3-1 scoreline in South Africa after a disappointing start.