West Indies 19 for 1 (Brathwaite 13*, Bishoo 1*) trail England 258 (Stokes 100, Root 58, Gabriel 4-51, Roach 4-71) by 239 runs.
We’ve seen this somewhere before. England’s vulnerable top order exposed, steadied by their captain and rescued further by someone in the middle order. Ben Stokes‘ sixth Test hundred was a bristling display, albeit not without fortune, but England’s recovery was far from total as Kemar Roach and the recalled Shannon Gabriel took four wickets apiece to keep them to 258.
West Indies’ bowling, especially from the quicks, was in a different league to what had been witnessed at Edgbaston; Gabriel’s return injected some pace, Roach was dangerous from a full length and Jason Holder chipped out a useful wicket. However, the fielding again let them down: Joe Root, who went on to equal the world record of at least a fifty in 12 consecutive Tests, was dropped on 8, a shocker at first slip by Kieran Powell, and even more significantly Stokes was missed on 9 by Kraigg Brathwaite at second.
Powell’s day did not get much better when he edged James Anderson to first slip, but on a gloomy evening with the lights on, the loss of just one wicket in a 45-minute period before the close was acceptable. Anderson, who began needing eight wickets for 500, was on the mark but Stuart Broad was too wide in his first spell.
The England innings ended in somewhat chaotic scenes with further embarrassing lapses in the field. Stokes was dropped at mid-on when on 98, one ball before he went to his century, while Shane Dowrich, the wicketkeeper, inexplicably shelled an edge off Broad. However, the sum total of those chances was two runs. Gabriel, the man who dropped the simple chance off Stokes, had him caught behind pulling and then, having glared at his keeper, did the job himself by ripping through Broad with a yorker to complete a successful comeback (and he didn’t even bowl a no-ball).
Stokes came in at 71 for 4 – a not-entirely-unknown situation for him, as can be said for the scoreline of 26 for 2 which greeted Root – and regularly threaded the off side with some powerful driving having initially flirted with the cordon. Two overs after being dropped, he sent a thick edge through where third slip had been stood a few balls previously.
His fifty came off 67 balls and it was the second half of his innings, after tea, in which he was especially eye-catching as he toyed with Holder’s tactics of trying to pack the off-side field, at one point operating with an 8-1 field. Three times Stokes went to the off side and whipped full deliveries wide of mid-on. He rarely mistimed a stroke in his second fifty, barring the one he clubbed to mid-on on 98, and two runs from his next ball took him past Andrew Flintoff’s tally of five Test hundreds, another landmark in the history of England’s finest allrounders.
Stokes’ dismissal, which was followed by a few words from Gabriel, brought a final collapse of 3 for 0 as England were prevented from pushing towards 300. Chris Woakes, on his return to the Test side, had eased to 23 with five boundaries before being the last man out to give Roach a deserved fourth wicket.
West Indies had managed a decent start with the ball at Edgbaston – England were 39 for 2 – but couldn’t get past the Cook-Root partnership until the damage was done. This time they had a third wicket, and a foothold, shortly after the hour mark. It was Gabriel who made the first mark when he found Alastair Cook’s outside edge for Kyle Hope to take a sharp, low catch at third slip.
It meant two of England’s new recruits, Mark Stoneman and Tom Westley, joined forces in the middle – but not for long. Westley is quickly finding out how a technique that has served you well at county level can be unpicked in the Test game and for the second time in two innings was lbw missing a full, straight delivery.
Stoneman received the best ball West Indies bowled at Edgbaston but here was more culpable in his demise. He had looked solid during much of his stay, lining the ball up well from over and round the wicket, but was lured into a drive at Roach and got an inside-edge to Dowrich. England were 37 for 3 with West Indies offering very few moments of release, except for Powell’s blunder, and the morning session brought just seven boundaries (in the first session at Edgbaston they had conceded 22) with two of those from Root off Roston Chase’s early exploratory overs.
They managed to keep control after the interval with Holder, now in the role of third seamer in the re-jigged attack, rewarded straightaway for switching to around the wicket against Dawid Malan who dragged a drive into his stumps. It meant England’s three vulnerable batting positions had made 30 between them.
Root and Stokes have bailed England out before, most memorably against New Zealand at Lord’s in 2015, and this time combined to add 69 in 15 overs as the bat dominated for the first time in the day. Root took advantage of an inconsistent start from Bishoo as he skipped to a 74-ball fifty to equal AB de Villiers’ record but then top edged a sweep to slip.
Root’s conversation rate from fifties to hundreds has been much remarked on, and rightly so for someone aspiring to greatness, but he’d managed to quieten the chatter somewhat with his century at Edgbaston. However, this was an occasion of one that would remain unfulfilled although his consistency – as highlighted by the record-equalling milestone – remains laudable.
There was no initial homeground success for Jonny Bairstow, who scored 140 here against Sri Lanka last year. This time, he was well held low down at second slip by Holder. The catch was upheld by the third umpire after much rocking and rolling of replays, the key factor being the soft signal of out from the onfield umpires, and it did appear Holder’s long fingers were under the ball whatever the Yorkshire faithful may have thought.
At 152 for 6 talk for some sides would often be of scrapping to 200, but such is the strength of England’s lower order that it felt another stand would develop. At the start of the final session, Moeen Ali accompanied Stokes in a freewheeling partnership of 68 in 13 overs as the day threatened to run away from West Indies. Chase was given a surprisingly long bowl ahead of Bishoo but, in the nick of time, Roach returned and struck second ball when Moeen drove to point. Despite the fielding mishaps there was limited damage to come. West Indies’ bowlers have lifted their game, now the batsmen have to do the same.