It’s day 8 here in the Caribbean, and today is the first time that this blog will focus solely on the cricket for this trip.
To be honest, England were pretty limp this morning. Collapsing from 341/5 to 399 all out was certainly not in England’s or their travelling supporters thoughts overnight.
Ben Stokes fell tamely early this morning, giving what can only be described as catching practice to the gully fielder, to traipse off for 79 after adding just 8 to his overnight score. After contradicting my fears over his Test batting during yesterday’s knock, his effort today reaffirmed all my worse fears about the Durham all-rounder.
If Stokes’ morning was poor, then Buttler’s was torturous. For 22 balls he fiddled and nurdled, occasionally half timing a delivery to the infielders. After a tortured half an hour, Buttler’s eyes lit up at a full half volley from Kemar Roach and he attempted to slap the ball through the covers. The resulting shot was more a hack, and he only succeeded in getting a thin edge through to the West Indies skipper behind the stumps.
Some shots from Chris Jordan, and James Anderson in his hundredth Test, allowed England to drag themselves up to just shy of 400. A decent enough total for their first innings on tour, but a long way short of the 500 they would have been eyeing overnight.
West Indies openers Devon Smith and Kraigg Brathwaite remained obdurate for a few overs, but then Anderson did for Smith as he has for countless others over the years. A smidge of away movement to the left-hander, and Smith followed the ball with his hands and offered a thin edge through to Buttler.
Darren Bravo was also soon accounted for; caught behind attempting to leave a delivery from Chris Jordan. Bravo’s dismissal brought Marlon Samuels to the crease, and from the outset he appeared to be in fine fettle. With little foot movement, but a superb eye, Samuels settled into his work and soon accumulated 33, but as he has done on many occasions before, he gave his wicket away when set. He took a lunge at a length delivery from Stuart Broad, and gave Buttler his third catch of the innings.
Brathwaite managed to hang around for a dour 39, containing not a single memorable shot, before falling to a spectacular slip catch by Jordan off the bowling of James Tredwell. Jordan swooped low to his right to clutch the ball, proving his worth to the team in the field, as well as with bat and ball in hand.
The evening session saw some attritional cricket, as Jermaine Blackwood, and the evergreen Shivnarine Chanderpaul dug in to give West Indies some hope heading into day three. The only alarm came when Blackwood took a wild slash at a short ball from Stokes, and edged the ball to Alastair Cook in the slips. However, after a brief delay, it was apparent that Stokes had overstepped the mark during his delivery stride, and it was actually a no ball.
A briefly hostile passage of play ensued as Stokes and Blackwood traded words and glares. But the fault lay entirely with Stokes. It is simply unforgivable at Test level, in fact ay any professional level, to be bowling no balls. I can count on one hand the number of no balls I’ve seen my village cricket side bowl in an entire season. Yet it appears that there is frequently more than one per innings at Test level.
I am convinced that this is largely due to way to the way in which the international players are practicing. As they go through some practice deliveries before the match, they are consistently at least a foot over the popping crease. Coaches are in their ear constantly about trying to bowl a millimetre fuller, a millimetre shorter; dealing with miniscule differences in line and length. Yet they continue to allow their bowlers to overstep the mark to such a ridiculous extent that it is costing them wickets in match situations. In an age where statistical analysis is at the fore, particularly with this England side, it is surely time that coaches turn their attention to the no ball scourge affecting their bowlers.