The second test match between England and the West Indies at Old Trafford, Manchester is underway, and already curious things are happening.
England had decided to rest Anderson and Wood for this game (both have had injury problems of late, and were unlikely to stand up to three matches in quick succession, so resting them for the middle match made sense. What did not make sense was Jofra Archer deciding to visit his home in Brighton (south east of Southampton) before heading to Manchester (north west of Southampton), thereby breaking the bio-secure protocols that everyone else involved manage to stick to (btw Anderson’s family home is only a few miles down the road from Old Trafford, and he did not succumb to temptation) and rendering himself ineligible for the match. With Oli Stone also not fully fit that meant that England had no out and out speedster available to them. They therefore opted for Curran’s left arm to give them some variation in the seam department and Woakes rather than a debut for Oliver Edward Robinson. They correctly gave Crawley the no3 slot, dropping Denly. They wrongly, indeed inexcusably, but unsurprisingly persisted with Buttler as keeper and no7, so the full 11 reads: Sibley, Burns, Crawley, *Root, Stokes, Pope, +Buttler, Woakes, Curran, Bess and Broad. Curran’s left arm provides some variation, and he may create some useful rough for Dom Bess to exploit. However, the only possibility of providing some genuine pace will be if Stokes is used in short spells in which he goes all out for speed – no one else in this side is capable of producing anything describable as genuinely fast. The West Indies are unchanged, which means that off spinner Rahkeem Cornwall, probably the heaviest international cricketer since Warwick Armstrong captained Australia in 1921 while weighing in at 22 stone, misses out.
THE EARLY EXCHANGES
Some traditional Manchester weather meant a delayed start, and the toss took place at noon, with a one hour session scheduled for 12:30-1:30, afternoon 2:10-4:25, evening 4:45 – 7:00, with half an hour overlap allowed, so a potential 7:30 finish. The West Indies one the toss and put England in. Burns and Sibley saw off the quicker bowlers, but then Burns fell to the off spin of Roston Chase on the stroke of lunch, and Crawley fell to Chase’s next delivery, immediately after the interval. Sibley and Root are now together, doing their best to stabilize things. England need to bat well, but on a pitch which is already looking like it could break up a first innings tally of 300 would put them in the box seat. Two wickets down this early is not good news for England, bit if they were going to lose two fairly early wickets losing them to Roston Chase is less bad than the alternatives, given that Bess is likely to enjoy this pitch even more, and that England are short of serious pace in this game (btw Robinson would not have helped in that regard – he specializes in moving the ball around a bit at just above medium pace, a method that has brought him 236 first class wickets at 22 a piece but which is not likely to have test batters quaking in their boots).
England are probably second favourites for this match given the effect that the combination of their selection policy and Archer’s misdemeanour has had on them, but it does look like the West Indies misread the pitch and would have done better to bat first. If the West Indies do win this game they win the series, the first time they will have done that in England since 1988 (the 1991 and 1995 series were both drawn 2-2, England won the 2000 series and have been dominant in these contests since then), if England prevail it will be 1-1 and all will come down to the decider at this same ground. My own feeling is that for the West Indies to win the series and retain the Wisden trophy (they won the last series in the Caribbean) they need to win this match – a draw would also secure them the Wisden Trophy as the series could not then finish worse for them than 1-1, but if England win I think the West Indies will find it tough to pick themselves up for the final game. For the moment, Sibley and Root remain in possession, and although they are not scoring quickly they are looking quite secure.
My usual sign off…