Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes batted through the evening session as England had the better of Day 1 of the third Test. Patrick Noone picks out the key moments in St Lucia.
After below-par batting performances in both Barbados and Antigua, there were calls for changes to be made to the playing XI. But the truth was that England’s decision not to pick an extra batsman in the touring squad limited their options severely. As such, the only change to the batting personnel saw Keaton Jennings return with Ben Foakes the unlucky fall-guy.
Jennings probably wasn’t expecting to get another opportunity and he batted as though he wouldn’t get another any time soon. His torturous 43-ball stay at the crease could and should have ended on two occasions, once when he was struck on the pad by Kemar Roach, given not out and West Indies chose not to review, and again two balls later when he was dropped at third slip by Roston Chase.
When he finally departed for 8, it was another loose drive outside his off-stump, the third time he’s been dismissed in such a fashion in this series. In total, Jennings has played 12 drives against seam – with only four of those has he made a clean connection.
A familiar story in every sense, for both Jennings and England, except for the identity of the bowler on this occasion. In Barbados, it was Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph who dismissed the opener; this time around it was Holder’s replacement, Keemo Paul. It was the very first ball that Paul delivered that Jennings succumbed to; a full ball outside his off-stump that he threw his hands at with minimal footwork.
There is a peculiarity about the fact that in each of his three innings this series, Jennings has seen off the threat of Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel, the opening bowlers, only to be dismissed by the first or second change option.
Nearly every Test innings of his – outside Asia at least – looks like a battle; against the bowlers, against his own technique, even against the threat of losing his place. Perhaps, after battling through the opening bowlers’ spells, his concentration drops a fraction against bowlers who should, in theory, present more run-scoring opportunities. For all of Jennings’ technical issues, the suggestion that there is a mental problem as well is far from ideal for a batsman who looks to have a scrambled mind for a multitude of reasons.
Of course, Jennings is not the only batsman in this England side struggling for form. Much has been made about their approach throughout this series; that the ultra-aggressive tactics that brought success in Sri Lanka were ill-suited to Caribbean pitches.
Whether or not England consciously took that criticism on board is obviously unclear, but what was evident is that the visitors reigned in their attacking instincts to a greater extent than in any other innings in this series.
It was ugly at times and none of Jennings, Rory Burns nor Joe Denly looked fluent during their time at the crease – it took until the 41st over before a boundary was scored off the middle of the bat – but England survived. When Burns and Denly departed in successive overs, England fans would have been forgiven for thinking ‘here we go again’, fearing another collapse.
But Joe Root, who never looked anything close to his best, did just enough to keep his side in the game and allow Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes at numbers five and six to come in and build England’s biggest partnership of the series on the way to their longest innings of the tour.
Buttler and Stokes were assured against a tiring West Indies bowling attack and, barring a reprieve for the latter when he was caught and bowled off a no ball from Alzarri Joseph, played the kind of innings that England have been desperate for throughout the series.
Buttler judged the West Indies bowlers’ lengths exceptionally, opting to not attack a single ball pitching between 6.7, and 8.5m – the in-between length that has caused England batsmen so many problems in the series up to now.
Stokes had an even bigger zone of reticence, not attacking anything between 5.7m and 8.8m.
Neither batsman’s innings was chanceless – Buttler was dropped on 0 and Stokes made it all the way to the dressing room before being recalled after Joseph was seen to have overstepped – but it was evident that they had a clear plan and executed it to build on a platform laid by a top order that finally offered some level of resistance.
With this England team, it is unwise to make any kind of predictions. It would still be no surprise to see them bowled out in a hurry tomorrow morning but, until then, they can enjoy the position they find themselves in after a rare good day on this tour.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.