Today was almost the West Indies’ day. They just needed to get through the final session without collapsing to not only have won the day but to actually have a chance to be on top in the match. That did not happen.
Yesterday I wrote that the West Indies would have to bowl much better today than they did yesterday to stay in the match and that is exactly what they did. Rampaul got some swing with the old ball to remove KP (not even through a bad shot, just an excellent delivery) and Roach finally found a spell where he stayed behind the line and got both Bell and Baristow with the second new ball. It was a fantastic spell of bowling and it really put England on the back foot, a position from which they never fully recovered.
Jonny Baristow looked very uncomfortable against the short delivery in his short stay at the crease. Opinion seemed to be divided over whether it constituted a weakness of not, but I am not inclined to think it does. Certainly he looked surprised by it and certainly he did not play it well, but it was part of a vicious new ball burst by Kemar Roach. There are few batsmen who would have played that very well and fewer still in their second Test. I think it is too early to pass a judgement on him.
I said that Kemar Roach found a spell of keeping his foot behind the line and that is true, but that period passed and we had more instances of the umpires ‘missing’ no-balls. We frequently saw them walk over to the crease to scrape away a bit and we saw on TV that the bowlers were overstepping, but it was only called a few times. This is a situation that should be rectified and could easily be. The on-field umpires have a radio connection to the third umpire; we know that the latter sees the no-balls, why can he not simply alert the former in real time? This would not even add any time to the game. All that has to happen is the third umpire radios down as it happens and the on-field umpire calls and signals such immediately thereafter. No need for analysis, discussion or anything of that sort; it would be just as quick and clear as if the on-field umpire had seen it. It would also free up the on-field umpire to focus on any potential incidents with the delivery.
I suggested yesterday that Tim Bresnan may have sneaked back into the side by picking up the tail-end wickets. That performance is probably irrelevant now, if he does not play at Edgbaston it will only be because of a rotation policy. He showed that he still can score runs and actually looked like he was trying to grind out an innings. At one point he had scored 20 runs off over 60 deliveries. It worked too; he finished with a very good 39 not out. What sealed it, however, was the three wickets he took during the West Indies collapse. England will certainly be happy to have a fully firing Tim Bresnan back, but I actually still think that Steve Finn ought to get a Test at some point. Bresnan’s runs in the first innings only compensated for some of the ones that he conceded on the first day and there is no reason why Finn could not have taken wickets too. The ball was starting to keep low by the time he took his wickets and it really suited the way he was bowling. That may happen again, but this has not been a typical English wicket and I still strongly feel that England must give Steven Finn a chance to show what he can do at some point. Bresnan was very good today, but we cannot just ignore what happened over the first six days of the series. One swallow does not a summer make.
My preference is still to play five bowlers. Bresnan scored runs again today and did so conventionally. The above paragraph should not be taken as a slight on him, he is a good cricketer and would easily be in any other side. It’s just that the same is true of Finn and ideally they would both play. This will probably not happen in the near future, but it would solve a lot of our selection problems.
I’m hesitant to say what might happen tomorrow. The West Indies have swung wildly from being very competitive and showing real talent to the 61-6 we saw in the evening session today. Samuels and Sammy are the two not out batsmen and they really need to put on another 200 partnership or the West Indies have just about had it. Frankly, they may have anyway. The pitch is breaking up, but not so much that one would say that England could not chase almost anything up to 250. The West Indies currently only lead by three. I expect a bit of fight, but I expect them to last to lunch and I would be surprised if they set England more than 100 to win. They’ve been surprising so far, however, they could surprise again.