West Indies bowlers reap rich rewards for pace, precision against England
Playing a massive role were the West Indies pacers, who diligently pegged away on a good line, registering better lengths and reaping crucial benefits. Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel lent precision and pace; Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph added movement and variation.Updated: Jul 14, 2020 06:41 IST
Never had West Indies failed to chase a target of 200 or less. Despite the absence of a seasoned batsman like Darren Bravo, they didn’t falter in Southampton against England either. A thrilling final-hour finish was just the boost Test cricket needed on resumption.
Yet, this wasn’t a triumph carved merely by the bats of Jermaine Blackwood and Roston Chase.
Playing a massive role were the West Indies pacers, who diligently pegged away on a good line, registering better lengths and reaping crucial benefits. Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel lent precision and pace; Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph added movement and variation. The long-awaited overhaul of West Indies’ pace bowling seems complete. It’s paying rich dividends too.
Overall statistics point to West Indies’ fast bowlers pipping their England counterparts in almost every department in Southampton. They took 18 wickets compared to England’s 14, averaged more maidens (41 out of 150.5 overs compared to England’s 28 out of 137.2 overs), 23.16 runs per wicket as opposed to England’s 29.14 with a strike rate of 50 balls, while England managed just under 59 balls.
A look at the finer details suggest West Indies were better at using the older ball as well. That was of paramount significance in this Test after the use of saliva was temporarily banned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) due to the pandemic.
First, let’s talk about the new ball. As the Dukes ball loses shine by lunch in England (usually the day’s 30th over), it was important to strike early. England and West Indies got to use the new ball thrice. England took 1, 5 and 3 wickets. West Indies got 3, 0 and 7 wickets with the new ball.
Off colour Anderson
England possibly missed a trick in not picking Stuart Broad, a master of seam movement who has been bowling fuller than ever, leaving James Anderson to do bulk of the work with Jofra Archer. Anderson—who ended with just three wickets—didn’t get much penetration on a slow Ageas Bowl pitch.
In the first innings, Anderson extracted just 0.75° swing, less than England’s overall average last year (0.94°), and his worst at home since July, 2017. When your premier seamer under-performs like that, the opposition batting gets a fillip. Anderson is also almost 38.
Short with new ball
Broad could have plugged the hole. His frustration at being benched in a home Test for the first time in eight years was understandable when the other England pacers, especially Archer, limited their effect by bowling short with the new ball.
England bowled fuller lengths in the second innings, reducing West Indies to 27/3 before Archer resorted to a barrage of bouncers in the Barbados-born’s first Test against West Indies, but their batting ran too deep to be stopped in a 200-run chase.
West Indies really aced bowling with the older ball. According to Cricviz (see graphic), West Indies averaged better swing and seam, bowled more good length as well as fuller length deliveries to induce more edges than England.
With no saliva available to maintain the ball, it was crucial for pacers to be disciplined and hit better lengths.
Holder leads the way
Showing the way was skipper Jason Holder, whose career-best six-wicket haul came with the older ball. Tall but not express, Holder’s ability to consistently hit the good length makes him a nightmare when batsmen try to step up the tempo.
That also explains why he has the best average for any Test bowler with 50 wickets since the start of 2018.
Cricviz records say 47% of Holder’s deliveries on Day 2 were on a good length, bettered only by Anderson. Holder also extracted more swing (1.4°) compared to Anderson (1.1°), which exploded the long-held belief that the old ball heavily depends on saliva to aid swing.
Then there was the final session on Day 4 that swung the Test in favour of West Indies. From 228/3 at the final drinks break, England were reduced to 284/8 at stumps. The wrecker-in-chief with the new ball was Alzarri Joseph, whose immaculate line fetched the scalps of a settled Zak Crawley after Holder dislodged Ben Stokes with a short ball that lured him into fishing outside off-stump to be caught at gully.
Shannon the man
Once Joseph uprooted Jos Buttler’s stumps with a length ball, Man-of-the-Match Gabriel conceded just 16 runs to take four wickets for a memorable five-wicket haul.
For Holder, that last session was “by far the best effort” he has seen. “At that stage when Stokesy and Zak (Crawley) were batting, the game started to look a little bit less likely for us to win. We knew we couldn’t lose—we backed ourselves not to lose—but we wanted to win, and we knew how important it was for us to win,” Holder said.
“It was a long hard toil and a hard-fought day for West Indies, and a day that definitely went in our favour at the back end. The reason I say it was the best day for me is down to the fact that every single time I asked for effort from those bowlers, no one said: ‘no, I can’t, I’m too tired’. They just all kept running in.”