Stuart Broad had better be careful. In this match he has produced devastating evidence of the virtues of being dropped.
The spectator at the Rose Bowl has been in scintillating form. In seven overs, which spanned two innings, he took six West Indian wickets. His rhythm was sure; he was gliding, not straining to the crease and every delivery possessed a wicked venom. He kept challenging both sides of the bat. The umpires were staring hard at the prospect of the next lbw appeal; the slip cordon were on red alert for the next snick. So Broad ended the day with 499 Test wickets; in this form it would be astonishing if he does not reach the coveted 500 before the end of this game.
By the close West Indies, needing 399 for victory, were languishing at 10 for two. England have the firmest possible grip on this match with one proviso lurking. One still wondered whether their bubble is so impenetrable that they have no access to the Met Office while in lockdown. On the third day of a five-day contest they bowled West Indies out for 197 and have consolidated their position ruthlessly. So what’s the problem?
The answer is that weather forecast. The prediction is for a washout on Monday. Captains often insist that their tactics cannot be dictated by the Met Office though this makes little or no sense. Although we like to complain about them, the experts seldom get it wrong in the 21st century. So the logic surely demanded that England, who must win to take possession of the Wisden Trophy treat this as a four-day match. At times there was a surprising lack of urgency.
In fact there were head-scratching moments from the start when West Indies needed 33 to avoid being asked to follow-on; the grapevine suggested that, unusually, England would enforce. Jofra Archer was bound to open the bowling since he had five balls remaining from an unfinished over, but it was not long before the sages were asking why Joe Root had not given the ball to Broad straight away. Admittedly a few of them were saying that at 11.03; by 11.40 everyone was pontificating along these lines.
In fact Root partnered Archer with Chris Woakes for half an hour and the only glimmer of a wicket came when Jason Holder clipped a delivery in the air to mid-wicket, where Ollie Pope pulled off a stunning catch. Then it transpired that Woakes had overstepped by a millimetre or two. At this point West Indies required only five runs to ensure England would bat again.
When Broad was introduced he ended up taking the last four wickets at a personal cost of 14 runs from four overs. Who knows whether it would have been so straightforward if he had started from the Brian Statham End? Broad entered one of his irresistible phases in which every ball suggests a wicket.
On these relatively low-bouncing surfaces he is harvesting lbws. Holder, who had played elegantly for 46 – it’s hard to recall a more elegant batsman, who is 6ft 7in tall – when he was struck on the crease and hit on the left pad. As ever, Broad only just remembered to look at the umpire when appealing/celebrating though the match referee, his father Chris, has yet to intervene.
Rahkeem Cornwall struck a glorious straight drive to open his Test account in England but soon fell in identical fashion to his captain. Next Kemar Roach was taken at slip by Root and then Shane Dowrich, looking far less fallible than the batsman of Saturday evening, had a heave that was probably triggered by the presence of Shannon Gabriel at the other end.
So the lead was 172. On the fourth day of the last Test, this situation prompted Root to open the batting with Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler and England scampered 128 runs in 19 overs. Here the tempo was rather different. In the 28 overs of the middle session Dom Sibley and Rory Burns mustered 76. With the prospect of two more days’ cricket this would have been perfect; with the possibility of just one it was puzzling.
After tea there was acceleration, though it was only rapid when Root joined Burns after the departure of Sibley, who was finally lbw to Jason Holder for 56 from 132 balls. The opening partnership of 114 had occupied almost 41 overs. By now West Indies were creaking; at times they had three subs on the field; the most worrying casualty being Dowrich whose lip had been badly cut after failing to take another delivery cleanly when standing back.
Root’s innings highlighted the limitations of the openers. He was impish from the start and raced to 68 from 56 balls; Burns also upped the pace without the same fluency whereupon he was dismissed for 90 from the final ball of the innings when sweeping against Roston Chase (of course). This pair had all but doubled the score in 16 overs.
So England had 25 minutes in the sunniest weather of the match in the field and inevitably it was the irrepressible Broad who struck, dismissing John Campbell and the nightwatchman Roach. Whatever the rotation plans, he may have to have another game here against Pakistan in 10 days’ time.