West Indies’ late burst leaves Test match nicely poised

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West Indies’ seamers took five wickets in the final 75 minutes of the fourth day to leave them on top in an enthralling Test match at the Ageas Bowl.

England looked to have put themselves into the box seat as Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley made half-centuries, batting time on a pitch with variable bounce, as thoughts turned to what sort of lead they might want before declaring on the final day.

SCOREBOARD: https://www.espncricinfo.com/series/19497/scorecard/1225247/england-vs-west-indies-1st-test-west-indies-in-england-2020

But after Jason Holder drew an edge to second slip from Ben Stokes, the wickets tumbled: Alzarri Joseph accounted for Crawley and Jos Buttler in the day’s quickest spell before Shannon Gabriel ripped through Dom Bess and Ollie Pope to leave West Indies dreaming of a famous win.

Rory Burns and Sibley had survived a brutal 10-over examination on the third evening but found scoring easier in the morning session, moving through the gears as they added 47 in the first hour of the day. But Holder reacted, bowling dry in tandem with offspinner Roston Chase, and the scoring pressure eventually told as Burns spooned a catch to point off Chase’s first half-tracker of the day.

Sibley in particular dropped anchor. He was occasionally bogged down against Chase, and seemed to be caught in two minds when Holder asked Joseph to target his ribcage, a tactic which proved to be his undoing in his final three innings in South Africa and even in the intra-squad warm-up match.

Zak Crawley of England bats during day four of the 1st #RaiseTheBat Test match at The Ageas Bowl on July 11, 2020 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images for ECB)

He was handed a life the ball after passing fifty, dragging a back-of-a-length delivery from Gabriel onto his stumps only for the third umpire to decide that he overstepped by a fine margin. But Gabriel had his man two balls later, firing a length ball down the leg side from wide on the crease which Sibley only managed to tickle through to Shane Dowrich.

Denly, backed at No. 3 ahead of Crawley, played the sort of innings that has become his trademark, for better or worse. He struggled early on, playing and missing repeatedly and surviving a shout for a catch off Holder which was shown to have looped up to second slip via his body on review. He grew in fluency as his innings wore on, but his dismissal – chipping an innocuous delivery from Chase to straight midwicket – was nothing if not soft.

Denly’s failings were exposed further by Crawley’s success. Chris Silverwood had hinted in the build-up to this Test that Denly was likely to be included for the second Test when Joe Root returns, telling the BBC: “Joe is in possession at the moment, and I do believe in giving people one too many chances rather than one not enough.”

But it seems implausible that Crawley will lose his place after an innings that oozed class, with a straight drive down the ground off Roach early in his innings one of the shots of the day. While England’s top three relied on flicks, pulls and dabs behind square, Crawley scored the vast majority of his runs in front of the wicket, driving elegantly and using his long levers to hit over the top off Chase.

Shannon Gabriel of the West Indies successfully appeals for the wicket of Dom Sibley of England during day four of the 1st #RaiseTheBat Test match at The Ageas Bowl on July 11, 2020 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images for ECB)

West Indies looked short of ideas against him and Stokes during their partnership of 98, with Stokes in particular taking a disdainful approach to Gabriel’s new-ball spell as England looked to make the game secure. But again Holder’s emphasis on discipline reaped rewards, as Stokes edged to second slip to fall to his opposite number for the second time in the match before Crawley offered a return catch to Joseph six balls later.

The game turned on its head in a hurry. Joseph, who had been used sparingly earlier in the day rather than being rammed into the ground, bowled with good pace, and burst through Buttler’s loose shot to leave England six wickets down.

While Buttler’s failure to make a telling score will undoubtedly put him under scrutiny – his average since the start of last summer’s Ashes is now just 21.38 – Joseph’s spell was brutal, as he found movement with the ball still relatively new. Tellingly, his celebrations were muted even after his breakthroughs, as if to emphasise that there was still a job to be done.

The benefits of Holder’s captaincy were evident again when Gabriel was unleashed in the final half-hour. He castled Bess, targeting the stumps from wide on the crease, before Pope dragged on with England staring down the barrel, only 165 ahead with two wickets in hand.

Mark Wood and Jofra Archer snuck England through to the close with a lead of 170, and will be tasked with spending time in the middle before making more of an impact than they managed in the first innings. (ESPNCricinfo)

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