No Barmy Army. No saliva on the ball. Local umpires and 3 DRS per innings. Sanitisers beyond the ropes. Rain. Sunlight. An exciting finish.
That is the return of Test cricket in a few words. The wait was over in Southampton when the England & Windies captains strode out for the toss on 8th July for the first Test. Rajasthan Royals’ Ben Stokes was the stand-in captain for England, while Jos Buttler stepped up as the vice-captain. The third Royals player to feature in the match was Jofra Archer.
The start of the game was delayed due to the typical English summer rain. England chose to bat under overcast conditions and only 17.4 overs could be bowled on the first day. The highlight of the day though was the gesture by all the players, umpires and officials of getting down on one knee to honour Black Lives Matter.
The rain stayed away on Day 2 and we had a considerable amount of play. On a seaming surface, the Windies pacers had the English batsmen in trouble. Captain Ben Stokes had to steady the ship with a watchful knock. At 87/5, both the Rajasthan Royals boys were together at the crease. A 67-run stand got England to a better position. However, both fell in quick succession and the innings folded on 204.
The Windies batsmen saw off Day 2 safely and when they returned on Day 3, the Rose Bowl was bathing in sunshine. The pace of Wood & Archer didn’t bother them a lot. Most of their batsmen got starts, and some of them converted it into handy scores. It took a captain’s spell to stall them. Stokesy got rid of both the Windies half-centurions and claimed 2 more wickets, ednign up with 4/49. Stokes went past 150 Test wickets in the process. He became the second fastest all-rounder to get to the feat of 150 scalps and 4000 runs in Tests.
After the Windies were bowled out for 318, England’s second innings got off to a sound note. Stokes came in to bat when England were in a commanding position after erasing the deficit. He played more freely and picked up some glorious boundaries on his way to 46. Like the first innings, he couldn’t get to his 50. He is the only English batsman to get out in the 40s in both innings of his maiden Test as skipper. Not a very proud record to have, but quite a strange one nevertheless.
Some handy runs from Archer early on Day 5 took England to 313 and the Windies were set a target of 200 runs. On Day 5, the surface had slowed down a bit and there was a hint of uneven bounce as well. Archer and Wood’s pace came to the party, as the Royals speedster caused havoc in the Windies top order. He bowled Kraig Brathwaite and injured John Campbell’s toe with a yorker. The opener was forced to retire hurt. Archer then trapped Brooks in front, before getting a set Chase to edge one through to Buttler.
Jermaine Blackwood was the back-bone of the Windies chase. He proved to be the batsmen England couldn’t uproot for a long period of time. Blackwood went past 50 and the Windies were closing in on the target. Stokesy nearly caused a late scare in their camp as he dismissed Dowrich & Blackwood on 95 with a few runs still needed. The double strike didn’t keep the visitors from reaching the target to go 1-0 up in the series.
While the Test didn’t end the way he would have loved it to, Stokes revelled in the occasion of captaining England for the 5 days. He made some good decisions and bowled his heart out, claiming 6 wickets in the 2 innings combined. With the bat, he was up for a fight and led from the front in the first innings. Test cricket got back in some style with a finish that could have gone any way. The Windies kept their cool under pressure and tight bowling, and this victory has set the tone for the remainder of the series.