After a poor outing in the first Test in Southampton, England made a remarkable comeback in the second game in Manchester to level the three-match series. Riding on a brilliant all-round performance from Ben Stokes, England registered a dominant 113-run victory over the visitors as the series remains poised for an exciting finish in the third and final Test at the same venue.
While Stokes’ performance was an obvious factor which separated the two sides, it was England’s strong intent which eventually saw them through the line in the match. The performance from the West Indies also highlighted their weaknesses – particularly the inability to sustain long spells.
As England level the series in Manchester, let’s take a look at key pointers which proved the difference:
No way, Ben Stokes!
AB de Villiers’ 297-ball 43 is an innings often revisited to highlight the sheer versatility of the former South African international. In the second Test against West Indies, Ben Stokes provided a glimpse that suggested that he could also adapt himself at a similar level, if need arises.
In the first innings, he showed tremendous grit alongside Dom Sibley after England were left in a spot of bother, losing three early wickets early – including that of returning captain Joe Root. The duo put up 260 runs for the fourth-wicket partnership, with Stokes scoring at a strike-rate of 49.44 for his 356-ball 176.
If the first innings was a display of his patience, the second proved to be an exhibition of his sheer firepower. With England needing quick runs on the board to set a competitive target for the visitors, Stokes took only 36 deliveries for his half-century as he opened the innings – eventually ending up on unbeaten 78 off just 57 balls.
When England began to rattle through the Windies lower-middle order on the fourth day of the Test, one could sense an impending comeback on the cards. However, it still surprised many when the hosts decided to send Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler – the two naturally aggressive batsmen in the XI, to open the innings. The move may have not reaped the expected rewards with Buttler falling in the first over – but it eventually did the trick for England, thanks to Stokes.
West Indies may have not played the rash shots they’re so infamously known for, but lacked the grit which could’ve helped them survive the final day. Apart from Stuart Broad troubling the batsmen with his occasional nip-backers, it was the inability to sustain significantly long spells which cost them the match. “English bowlers tend to bowl long spells, so we need more grit and trust our defences for longer,” Windies captain Jason Holder acknowledged the issue after the game.
Converting the starts
One of the key differences between England and West Indies was the inability of the Windies batsmen to convert fifties into hundreds. Across the two Tests, the West Indies batsmen crossed their half-centuries on eight occasions but have failed to breach the three-figure mark – five of them came in the Manchester Test.
While the partnership between Ben Stokes and Dom Sibley proved decisive for the hosts, the visitors failed to put out a similar display, which proved detrimental to their cause.
England boasts of a fast-bowling attack which can afford to rest the likes of James Anderson and sustain the setback of dropping Jofra Archer an hour before the scheduled start. The trio of Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran, with persistent pressure from Ben Stokes to accommodate rest to frontline pacers combined to steer the game away from West Indies.
Whether it be dismissing the Windies batsmen at crucial stages (Stokes dismissing Brathwaite in the first innings, Curran trapping Brooks around-the-wicket in the second, among others) or maintaining pressure with occasional short-stuff throughout the Test, the England pacers consistently bowled the right lengths in the game.
While the pacers struck at key moments, spinner Dominic Bess wasn’t far away from making an impact. He dismissed the captain Jason Holder in the second innings which all but secured the win for England.