Stuart Broad earns just reward but England sleepwalk towards oblivion
The tough, gritty, frill-free professionals are outplaying the wayward talents. West Indies are beating England. Despite the best efforts of Stuart Broad, whose new short run has come in handy since he has already bowled 28 overs, Jason Holder’s side have a first-innings lead of 85, which should be decisive with four wickets standing.
Broad took three wickets. He may feel that he deserved seven or eight so often did he beat the bat of left-handers and a conservative estimate might concede that at least five would have been a just return. But faced with the most resolute bunch of batsmen, epitomised by Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Bravo, who were prepared to dig in for victory, Broad in turn was frustrated, exasperated and downright apoplectic.
Broad ran in from the favoured Sir Curtly Ambrose End for much of the day. How unplayable Sir Curtly would have been from his end in this match, where the combination of some green grass and the suspicion of a ridge make batting a trial. There was movement, left and right, up and down, for most of the day.
So despite Broad’s best efforts the tourists appear to be sleepwalking towards oblivion, a trait that English cricket is developing all too readily. This has been evident in the evolution of the Hundred. Nobody can be bothered to stop it. It’s better to stick on the blinkers, shrug the shoulders and take the money. And now on this tour our Test cricketers are in danger of sleepwalking to defeat, as beguiled and helpless as Odysseus’s sailors in the land of the Lotus Eaters.
They have not been disgraceful in Antigua. They have dutifully striven hard. Yet so far they have been outplayed by West Indies at every turn and they are starting to look dazed as well as exasperated. It was not supposed to be like this after the heralded triumph in Sri Lanka.
In Antigua most of the exasperation emanated from Broad and that was understandable. He had been presented with an ideal pitch for his style of bowling and he had performed well yet after 16 overs he had nothing to show for his perspiration. Three possible chances were spilt off him and, though he may be too polite to dwell upon that, he keeps a ledger.
In his first over of the day Brathwaite made a rare miscalculation when he clipped the ball in the air to square leg, where the substitute fielder, Keaton Jennings, could not quite snatch a half-chance. Jennings was on the field in the continued absence of Ben Foakes, whose right hand remained bruised and swollen, though there was no suggestion of any cracks from the x-rays.
Then John Campbell was given out caught at slip off Broad but an immediate review confirmed that the ball had touched the batsman’s elbow.
On 21 Campbell was the beneficiary of England’s most obvious aberration; he edged the ball straight to Jos Buttler at third slip and the chance went to ground. Soon afterwards the same batsman miscued a pull shot and the ball ballooned in the air on the leg side; three Englishmen sprinted towards it but none could get there in time.
Broad had beaten the outside edge of Campbell’s bat so many times yet now a couple of straight drives skimmed to the boundary. His frustration was highlighted when he forfeited four overthrows when Jimmy Anderson was bowling. It is fair to say that at this point England’s senior citizens were making Victor Meldrew seem as chirpy as Michael McIntyre.
Finally the openers were parted when Ben Stokes found the edge of Campbell’s bat. This time Buttler held the catch and England had taken a wicket for the first time in 101.1 overs against West Indies. By now all the seamers must have recognised there was one end to bowl here, with Stokes propelling some serious deliveries. He hit the ridge a few times and the ball sped through to Jonny Bairstow at head height but he was subsequently beguiled into bowling a fraction short.
In the morning session West Indies added 96 for the loss of Campbell’s wicket in 29 overs, a substantial increase in strike rate to the previous evening. For them this was a brilliant start to the day. Brathwaite watched the ball hawkishly, taking pleasure in a resolute defensive shot or a good leave. He patted the ball into the gaps for his runs but he was not bothered how slowly they came. Meanwhile Shai Hope, after some uncomfortable moments against Stokes, settled in resolutely and resolution was required when facing the bowlers from the Ambrose End.
After lunch England eventually made inroads though initially not from the obvious quarter. Moeen Ali dismissed Brathwaite, neatly caught at short leg by Jennings for a devoted 49. Next Broad in his 17th over was finally rewarded. He beat Hope a couple of times and the batsman was disconcerted. Then at last he conjured an edge and his relief was tangible. Roston Chase edged his second delivery from Broad between second and fourth slip and up went the arms and the eyebrows. No matter, the next delivery kept treacherously low and Chase’s off stump went missing.
Darren Bravo dug in alongside the more quixotic Shimron Hetmyer, who was dropped on 15, a hard chance to Rory Burns at cover. An even harder one was offered by Hetmyer on 21 and this time Anderson, sprinting in from long-off, held a blinder to give Moeen a second wicket. The second new ball offered no more than one wicket for Broad via a lifter to Shane Dowrich. Thereafter Bravo, defending furiously, and Holder continued to defy the bowlers and a ridge that has, by now, infiltrated the batsmen’s minds.