Brathwaite, Dowrich put West Indies in commanding position
Battling half-centuries from Kraigg Brathwaite and Shane Dowrich put West Indies into a commanding position on the third day at the Ageas Bowl, before England’s openers withstood a superb spell of new-ball bowling to cut the deficit to double figures.
Jason Holder said on the second evening that the first hour would help set the tone for the rest of the day, and Brathwaite and Shai Hope continued where they had left off on a sunny morning, dropping anchor and putting miles into the legs of England’s seamers.
While James Anderson and Ben Stokes eventually made breakthroughs, West Indies followed the template for batting in England, leaving and defending watchfully and putting away the occasional bad balls to give themselves a first-innings lead of 114.
Questions will continue to be asked about England’s team selection and their decision to bat first, not least after Stuart Broad’s candid comments immediately before the start of play. Mark Wood and Jofra Archer had been asked to bring express pace and both did so, regularly passing the 90mph/145kph mark on the speed gun, but were set to go wicketless until Wood castled No. 11 Shannon Gabriel.
But credit should mainly go to the West Indian batsmen, who managed to build partnerships regularly. There had been lingering doubts throughout the build-up to the series about their ability to occupy the crease for long periods of time, which were largely dispelled as the majority of the middle order managed to soak up balls in the middle.
Hope had dug in valiantly on the second evening, fending off a short-ball barrage from Wood, but struggled for any kind of fluency in the morning session. It remains one of the great mysteries how he can look so settled at the crease in an ODI shirt and yet endure such a poor run in Test cricket since the 2017 tour. He got a life when Archer trapped him lbw only to have overstepped, but fell an over later, slashing ill-advisedly at Dom Bess‘ offspin and being caught at slip.
Brathwaite, playing the ball late and ticking the strike over where he could, dug in to bring up a first half-century in almost two years before lunch. He could have considered himself unfortunate when given out lbw to a nip-backer from Stokes at the end of an over in which he had already hit three boundaries; he reviewed the decision after a long think, but it was upheld after the ball was shown to be clipping the stumps and umpire’s call on impact.
But while England had faltered in struggling to build partnerships, West Indies flourished. Shamarh Brooks, in his first Test innings outside India, got up and running with four early boundaries – two off Jofra Archer, two off Bess – while Roston Chase defended well and drove firmly whenever England pitched the ball up to him.
Brooks looked certain to push on towards a meaningful score when he feathered an edge through to Jos Buttler, which brought Jermaine Blackwood to the crease. Blackwood had insisted he was a more patient and focused batsman than his previous incarnation, but looked his usual frenetic self during his brief stay, charging Bess and slashing him to Anderson at mid-off for 12.
Dowrich joined Chase to take West Indies through to tea, scoring freely to start his innings before settling into a steadier rhythm. The pair put on 81, the game’s highest partnership to date, either side of the interval as England strained for a wicket, but Wood failed to find much bite on a slow pitch. It was Anderson who eventually broke through with the new ball, trapping Chase in front on review, but by that point West Indies’ lead had begun to look commanding.
After trying to rouse his troops after tea, Stokes eventually realised he would have to do things by himself. Jason Holder had landed the first punch in the battle of the allrounders yesterday, but Stokes fought back with a sharp bouncer which his opposite number flapped down to long leg, and Alzarri Joseph’s enterprising cameo came to an end as Stokes nipped one through him and struck the top of off to reach 150 Test wickets.
He got the key wicket of Dowrich, who had battled well for his 61, when a back-of-a-length ball flicked the back of his bat on the way through to Buttler, before Wood cleaned up Gabriel to leave West Indies with a first-innings lead of 114.
The final 10 overs of the day were gripping. After being bowled while leaving the ball in the first innings, Dom Sibley shuffled his stance across towards the off side, and was given a working-over by Gabriel and Kemar Roach in the channel, but he survived until the close, nudging a single down to long leg off the final ball to take the deficit below 100. (ESPNCricinfo)