Six years ago the West Indies defied England to draw a Test in Antigua, albeit on a different ground. History was repeated, this time at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, as the West Indies displayed pride and more than a little backbone to force a first Test draw on a relatively lifeless surface. There is little time for the tourists to reflect on their final day failings as a heavy schedule dictates a quick resumption of the age-old rivalry. Incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves’ foolish comments in the media have only served to spur on the supposedly “mediocre” West Indians. One can practically picture Tony Greig’s knowing smile from that special place where legends of the game rest in immortality.
To Win Match
West Indies 5/1
The men from the Caribbean will be well aware that their best chance of continued results in the Test series hinges on the state of the pitches. Arriving in Grenada, they would have been pleased to be greeted by a strip that looks to have little in the way of pace, bounce or movement. A relatively dead pitch gives their somewhat fragile batting lineup the best chance of time at the crease. Jason Holder – upon whose young shoulders so much rests for the future of West Indian cricket – took up vigil with West Indies 189/6 with still 51 overs remaining in the day. He brought up his maiden Test century with two overs left of play and stood unbeaten on 103 from 149 balls, having spent 216 minutes at the crease to thwart England’s best efforts. The ODI captain was ably supported by Test captain Denesh Ramdin and the unlikely Kemar Roach to see the West Indies through to safety.
The West Indies have made only one change to the squad, dropping Sulieman Benn in favour of quick bowler Shannon Gabriel. The decision leaves Devendra Bishoo as the lone specialist spinner for Grenada and the home side will be hoping that his recent staggering domestic form translates to the Test arena. Opening batsman Devon Smith will become the first Grenadian to play a Test on home soil, with only three others having ever donned the West Indian whites, a strange and altogether unsettling stat. The ageless Shivnarine Chanderpaul will be out to prove that his powers are not waning after a largely uneventful first Test. He is a mere 78 runs behind Brian Lara on the all-time West Indian Test runs list and will consider it a failure if he does not knock off the deficit in this series.
The draw in Antigua leaves England without a Test win overseas since November 2012. Focus in the camp will obviously be on a strategy to take twenty wickets on a reasonably lifeless Grenada strip. Although I’ve consistently mentioned that the West Indian tracks have showed signs of flatness, England will find it very disconcerting that they found less movement with the new ball in both of their innings than their West Indian counterparts. For a country who once prided itself on the skills of their pacemen, they were outbowled in Antigua as well out of ideas once the ball had lost its shine. On the plus side, James Anderson overtook Ian Botham to become England’s all-time leading wicket-taker in Test cricket in his 100th Test, adding his name to the top of a list containing legendary titles such as Botham, Bob Willis and Fred Trueman. At 32-years-old and with a mammoth schedule ahead, Anderson will have plenty of opportunities to extend his record.
Moeen Ali has been cleared by the medical team for the second Test after missing out of the first with a side strain picked up at the World Cup. It remains to be seen whether he can sustain the load of overs required of him over the five days. James Tredwell bowled beautifully in the first innings at Antigua and would’ve been expected to retain the role of specialist spinner had he not picked up a late injury. As it stands, it seems that Ali will start and the rest of the side will remain unchanged. Where Ali will bat is a cause for discussion though, with Jonathan Trott set to keep his place as Test opener despite a rough return. England will be in no hurry to displace Gary Ballance from number three with an astounding four centuries in his nine Tests to date.
As discussed, Grenada is expected to play low and slow. Reports suggest it will slightly quicker than Antigua and, as usual, the morning sessions will be the most important for bowling sides to extract the limited movement on offer. This will be England’s first ever Test in Grenada and will be the third Test hosted at the ground. The West Indies drew with New Zealand in 2002 and lost to Bangladesh in 2009, however, the side had been cobbled together in haste after senior players opted out of playing due to a board dispute.
VERDICT: England 9/10
The tourists are decent value to get the win and displayed everything necessary to beat the West Indies until the final day of the first Test. While the West Indian rearguard in Antigua was admirable and showed progress, one cannot help but be suspicious of a notorious batting collapse in the near future. One step forward, two steps back. The mantra of West Indian cricket.