Blackwood determined and focused ahead of England series


When Jermaine Blackwood pushed James Tredwell down the ground to bring up his maiden Test hundred in 2015, it seemed unthinkable that five years later it would remain his only one.

Then 23, Blackwood batted with maturity and style, holding West Indies’ innings together and earning admiration from Viv Richards along the way.

And yet two-and-a-half years later, he found himself out of the team. His batting, once so fluent, had become frenetic, and after 15 runs across five innings, the selectors felt that they had seen enough.

Now, after spending the best part of three years out of the side – albeit with one appearance as a concussion substitute last year – Blackwood finds himself back in the picture, part of the 14-man squad that is scheduled to leave for England on Monday.

The absence of two middle-order batsmen in the shape of Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer means there is every chance Blackwood will be handed the opportunity to nail down a spot for the long term.

“Right now, it’s a more determined Jermaine Blackwood and a more focused Jermaine Blackwood,” he told ESPNcricinfo before leaving Jamaica last Friday. “Being dropped helped me to go back and work on my game and my mental space, and to come back strong.

“It wasn’t anything too much to do with the technical aspect of batting, just some little tweaks. But the mental side, I had to change a bit. I did a lot of reading just to help my mental space going forward. That’s really helped me.”

It did indeed, as Blackwood was the top run-maker in the West Indies Championships (four-day tournament) which had to be abandoned after eight rounds in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In the regional four-day [competition] in the Caribbean I scored some runs, and I batted some time too. That’s the new way going forward for me, just to bat as long as possible,” he said.

In fact, “some runs” is an understatement. Blackwood piled on 768 of them in his 15 first-class innings for Jamaica, including a maiden double hundred against Leeward Islands in his most recent innings.

Jermaine Blackwood has been a prolific run-scorer for Jamaica in domestic cricket (Photo: CWI Media/Kerrie Eversley)

“[He] returns by sheer weight of performance in the domestic first-class season,” Roger Harper, West Indies’ chairman of selectors, said on Blackwood’s selection. “His patience and application were evident and that resulted in much greater consistency.”

That word, patience, is one that Blackwood focuses on. On West Indies’ most recent visit to England, it was something that his batting lacked: in the Edgbaston Test, he thrashed an unbeaten 79 off 76 balls in the first innings as everything crumbled around him, before a blitzkrieg 41 dragged them towards victory in the memorable Headingley run chase.

But at Lord’s things caught up with him: he was bowled swinging wildly across the line in the first innings, and caught behind fending away from his body in the second. Two Tests later, he was the fall guy.

“It’s about patience for me, spending lots of time in the middle,” he said. “That don’t say if I get a bad ball I won’t put it to the boundary. I don’t change too much of my shot selection. It’s just staying a bit more patient, batting a lot of deliveries – trying to bat for a whole day, or a day-and-a-half.”

Since the domestic season was curtailed, most cricketers around the world have struggled for motivation, doing their best to stay fit despite the constraints of a lockdown. But for Blackwood, it has been an opportunity to get ahead.

Blackwood lives ten minutes away from Andre Russell in the Jamaican capital, Kingston. The proximity has come in handy during the pandemic as Blackwood said the pair had been training “very hard – two times a day” at the nets in Russell’s back yard to keep themselves active.

“We’ve been working consistently, in the gym and in the nets as well. He’s basically my mentor,” Blackwood explains. “We talk a lot about cricket and stuff. He’s helped me through this period [out of the team] as well.

“I’m always up there, every day at his house. He’s like my brother – I can stay there any time I want. We’re very competitive: sometimes he gets me out, sometimes I hit him for a few sixes. And he pushes me in the gym to get even stronger, to lift heavier weights, and running as well.

“He’s just a great human being, a great person. Seeing the way he goes out and puts in performances game after game in T20s, I just want to be like him, but in Test cricket: going out there and putting in performances consistently.”

Despite the daunting task of an England tour, Blackwood remains confident. He is one of six players in the West Indies squad for the England series who spent six weeks in the country in 2018 as part of an A tour, and suggests that the experience will stand the squad in good stead.

“I think it’ll be good fun for us,” Blackwood said. “England have one of the best bowling attacks in the world, but I’m always up for the challenge: I like to go out there and challenge the best in the world. I want to get runs against the best.

“Jimmy Anderson is very good – a great bowler over the years, then you have Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes is a good bowler, Jofra Archer is just coming onto the scene… it’s a good attack. But I don’t think we’re coming over there to lose. We’re coming over to win. That’s our mentality coming to England.” (ESPNCricinfo)

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