ENGLAND TOUR OF WEST INDIES, 2019
Ben Stokes in unbeaten on 62 at stumps on Day 1 of the St Lucia Test. © AFP
Luck plays a big part in life and professional sport is no different. As well as West Indies have played in this series, they have also had the greater share of luck. Where England’s batsmen have mostly edged their aimless wafts, for example – think of Joe Denly in the first innings in Antigua or Joe Root on day one of this match – the home team’s batsmen have largely got away with theirs. On the first day in St Lucia, however, the tables turned and England finally had some fortune going their way.
There were two dropped catches by West Indies, one off Keaton Jennings and one off Jos Buttler, the former costing not many, the latter costing 67 so far with scope to add on day two. The home side also opted not to review a plumb LBW decision against Jennings two balls before he was dropped, and when they did review later, this time for Denly’s caught-behind down the leg-side, replays showed the ball had indeed brushed the glove but Denly’s right hand was off the bat handle.
It did not end there. There were some inside edges flashing past the stumps and a huge slice of luck in the final session. Ben Stokes, having just passed his half-century, was brilliantly caught and bowled by Alzarri Joseph. The England all-rounder walked off, disbelievingly, and made his way into the dressing room. However, television replays showed that the bowler had overstepped and so Stokes had to be called out of the pavilion to resume his innings. It was yet more good, if somewhat bizarre, fortune for England.
They made the most of it, too, finishing the day 231 for 4 on a difficult pitch which Stokes, who is unbeaten on 62, said was becoming increasingly dented by the ball as the day wore on, giving rise to more movement for the batsmen to contend with. That he and Buttler got through to the close unscathed was crucial for England’s hope of salvaging some pride in this Test match. With both of them still at the crease, and Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali to come, the tourists will hope they can press on to a 350 plus score on the second day.
“I’ve never been in the changing room and called out to bat again, that is a first for me and it’s probably something that they need to get control of,” Stokes said of the no-ball incident. “I don’t think in international cricket you should be walking off and being in the changing rooms and then being back out there two minutes later. Thank God for technology.
“I was just sat in my chair with my pads on and then I thought someone had got out because of all the shouting, but then the shout was ‘no-ball and you’re in’ so just bizarre. I just had to get myself back into the right frame of mind out there. I had to try and let it go and make sure I was not out at the end of the day.”
Although he reigned himself in after his non-dismissal and against the second new ball, Stokes looked in a far more aggressive mood that he has for some time, reaching his fifty off just 84 deliveries. After play, he confessed to altering his stance slightly, moving across to stand on off-stump, and after recent spells at three and five in the order, being moved back down to number six appears to suit him better. It is a position where he has fond memories.
“I watched myself score a hundred against New Zealand at Lord’s [in 2015] before this game to remind myself of a technique where I’d done well and I took it out there with me,” he said. “That is a catalyst for how I want to play. I was just trying to find the right tempo between being too aggressive and being too defensive. I think I was a bit stuck over the last couple of months, but watching the video this morning did me the world of good.”
Without their captain, Jason Holder, banned for a slow over rate in the previous Test, West Indies looked less disciplined than they had in Barbados and Antigua. The fielding was sloppy – in addition to the two dropped catches, there were four overthrows and other fumbles – and although there were excellent spells from Kemar Roach and Holder’s replacement, Keemo Paul, generally West Indies bowled a little too wide and a little too erratically. There were 30 extras in total, including 15 wides.
Having taken two wickets, Paul, playing just his third Test, was probably the pick of the home side’s bowlers and certainly the most consistent. “It was a good day, I got two wickets,” he said. “I was hoping for more but the guys batted pretty well. I know my role, I know what to do with the ball. We have Shannon [Gabriel] and Roachy who mentor me and tell me what to do sometimes. It’s a relaxing role for me to come in to.”
When asked what a good score is on this pitch, Paul said the West Indies would be happy with keeping England to anything under 320 on what he felt was still a good batting wicket. What the tourists can muster on day two remains to be seen but for now, Joe Root’s men can enjoy the fact that West Indies did not emerge from the first day in St Lucia on top. After eight days of cricket so far in this series, it’s the first time England have been able to say that.