It is not often that the West Indies win a test against a team ranked ahead of them. Not many, including, most notably, incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves, gave them even a smidgen of a chance of competing with England. And so victory by all of five wickets must be something of a shock as well as a source of unbridled joy to long-suffering Caribbean cricket fans.
The Denesh Ramdin-led side arrived in Barbados needing to come from behind, having lost a test in Grenada they should easily have drawn. They had begun the fifth day of the second test coasting at 202/2, only to plummet to 307 all out. Set 143, England won by nine wickets.
The batting collapse can hardly ever be far away from the thoughts of West Indian fans. It is always there somewhere, lurking, hovering like a dark cloud over the horizon that could just as easily dissipate as move in and wreak havoc. It is for this reason that the wiser ones watching proceedings in Barbados dared not claim victory until it was in touching distance.
There were highly entertaining performances from both sides in Barbados. Alastair Cook’s hundred on the first day was very important to his team and it solidified a welcome return to form for one of England’s most reliable batsmen of the last six or so years. But one would hardly describe him as a compelling batsman to watch.
Jerome Taylor and Shannon Gabriel bowled quickly and well for the West Indies, while Moeen Ali’s 58 before he was run-out in the first innings and Darren Bravo’s match-winning 82 were elegant exhibitions of batting. However, the two players who provided the bulk of the entertainment in Barbados were Jimmy Anderson and Jermaine Blackwood.
Anderson’s first innings opening spell was simply magic. Rarely would such high-quality swing bowling be witnessed in Barbados, or anywhere else for that matter. Indeed, the bowler, if I heard him correctly, said it might have been his best performance ever.
Anderson’s command of the swinging ball sets him on a plane high above every other bowler. And his extraction of the experienced and in-form Marlon Samuels was beautiful to behold, even if, like me, you are a big fan of the batsman.
It wasn’t the wicket-taking delivery that did it. It was the ones that came before. It was the build-up. Quite often in football, the goal itself is spectacular, but wouldn’t have been possible without the intricate passing that preceded it. Marlon Samuels comfortably left all save one of the five outswinging deliveries James Anderson had bowled to him. But the sixth, the last ball of Anderson’s fifth over, was a breathtaking inswinger which he cannoned into the outfoxed batsman’s pads, setting off a deafening LBW shout from the bowler and close-in fielders, and howls of jubilation as the umpire raised his index finger.
This was a master craftsman at work, and no matter which side you were on you couldn’t help but admire the skill. Samuels had come to the crease and struck two elegant drives off Stuart Broad to the boundary. Against Anderson, however, he appeared more circumspect, more intent on leaving everything that posed no threat to his stumps.
This is a strength the batsman has acquired, and it has been a big part of his recent success in tests. But like some Jiu-Jitsu warrior, Anderson turned strength into weakness, preyed on the batsman’s cautious mindset, and lured him into shouldering arms to a delivery that must have startled him as he saw it snaking wickedly back in.
One should not be too harsh on Samuels for losing his wicket in this way. The theory that the batsman has to make an error in order to get out is true, but it’s true only in theory. There are times when the bowler is just too good. Samuels, LBW bowled Anderson in the first innings of the third test of England’s 2015 tour, was one such occasion.
When Michael Holding dismantled Geoffrey Boycott’s stumps with the sixth ball of the famed “fastest over ever bowled” in 1980 at this same venue, the batsman, according to legend, declared himself blameless after viewing video replays. Samuels may not wish to see himself so thoroughly outwitted, but if he were minded to take a look, he might not be too harsh in himself.
Earlier, picture-perfect deliveries accounted for Kraigg Brathwaite and debutant Shai Hope, both caught in the slips. Later, the champion bowler returned to grab three more wickets to finish with 6-42. Barbadians and everyone watching will long remember his display.
Yet, as Anderson expertly dissected the home team’s batting unit, one man stood firm. Jermaine Blackwood strode to the middle when his side dangling precariously at 37-4. He was last man out for 85, attempting to send Anderson over the long-off, but in between played an innings that must have been the best of his young career.
His unbeaten 112 at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in the first test was a grand affair. This first innings effort, however, was played with more certainty on a trickier surface with the batsman probably under more pressure. He scored more briskly this time, slamming 11 fours and four sixes off just 88 balls.
Blackwood was patient; his defence to the good ball, immaculate. Still, no bad ball escaped punishment even as everything was crumbling around him. Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s 25 was the next highest score.
While considered inadequate, the host’s eventual 189 meant they trailed by 68. This was a significant lead on a wearing surface; nevertheless, hope had not completely vanished.
That sliver of hope grew substantially when the West Indies’ bowling attack combined to dismiss the visitors for a meager 123. The target was therefore 192 runs and far from straightforward.
A reasonably sound start saw the hosts to 35 before they lost their first wicket. When Blackwood joined the fray, with the score 80-4, the outcome was far from decided. Again, the young man rose to the occasion with a well-played 47 not out, this time mostly in the company of senior batsman, Darren Bravo. Together they added 108 to secure a very satisfying victory.
Deservedly, Blackwood won the man-of-the-match award. It should be the first of many.