Saturday, 18 April 2015

Frustration and elation

Saturday, 18 April 2015
This was one of those matches that showed to me just why I love test cricket. Either side had sessions they won and sessions they lost; both teams were put under pressure and fought their way out from it; there were unplayable deliveries, sensational catches, brilliant batting displays; unexpected stars with both the bat and the ball; and after five days it still all came down to the very last session, England desperately seeking the wickets they needed to win. Frustration for me as an England fan, but certainly a well earned draw for the West Indies.

The hero of the hour was Jason Holder. A man batting at number eight with a previous first class best of 52, Holder made an unbeaten 103 to save the game. When the sixth wicket fell in the eightieth over, England looked to be heading towards victory, but just one more was to be dismissed over the next fifty. It wasn't all Holder's work - Devon Smith stuck it out at the start of the innings with 65 from 175 deliveries; Ramdin scored 57 in a 105 run partnership with Holder; whilst Kemar Roach was immovable with 15* from 55, forever frustrating England. A flat pitch offered very little for the England bowlers, but that should not take away from the achievement of the West Indies. England gave it their all, but the 'mediocre' opposition proved too big a task.

Apart from Holder, the story of the day was of James Anderson's 384th test wicket, taking him past Ian Botham as England's leading test wicket taker. It was his hundredth test, and in front of his parents too - like the script was written for the moment. And the moment was certainly special, celebrations on and off the pitch, tributes abundant (which I myself will probably be adding to in the next few days). But more than anything, it brought the hope back for England - breaking the partnership of Ramdin and Holder, leaving about twenty overs for the last three wickets. The game was still far from over. It was just not quite to be for England this time.

The match will have raised concerns for England. First of all, they will be hoping their opening partnership can come to fruition soon, both Trott and Cook failing in this match. Of course, it's early days for the new pair, and they are both proven test players you would back to come good. I just hope that it will be soon. Bowling wise, England will be wary after seeing this five man attack (or six if you add Joe Root, bowling a good share in this match and taking two wickets as a reward) toil for 130 overs on a flat pitch. It's a lot of overs in the bowlers' legs ahead of a tough summer - and they'll be hoping the pitches offer more over the next few matches. Injuries or burnout for someone like Anderson or Broad will not be what England need, and rotation - Plunkett and Wood are in the West Indies too - will likely come into play at some point over the year. Tredwell filled in capably in Ali's absence with four first innings wickets and did his job in holding up an end, dependable as ever - though ultimately he lacked penetration in the final innings.

But there are plenty of good signs too. Ballance is back in the runs after a tough World Cup, truly cementing his place at number three with 122 in the second innings. Really, numbers three, four, and five are right now looking solid for England, the middle order core of Ballance, Bell, and Root all finding the runs in this match. It's been great to see Ben Stokes back in the side and scoring well again too - really he had a horror show last year, going from the ray of hope in the Ashes whitewash to not looking able to even buy a run. With Stokes back in the runs, Moeen Ali set to return to the team - perhaps in time for the next match, and Buttler ever promising, England arguably now have three number sixes in their side and it will be interesting to see how they line up when they all play. And I can't leave this piece without mentioning the sublime slip fielding of Chris Jordan. With two incredible one handed slip catches off the spinners, he is fast becoming one of England's safest pairs of hands in the field.

England's winless run overseas continues, not having won a test abroad since the tour of India in 2012. Hopefully they are just warming up, rather than this being a sign of things to come. But either way, I can't complain too much - this match was frustrating, but enjoyable in equal measure and showed all the qualities of the game I love.

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