It was a long time coming but the first Test between England and the West Indies was well worth the wait as we were treated to a thriller, with a surprising result that has set the rest of the series up nicely.
Few would have given the tourists much chance of an opening victory given their recent record on English soil, and they were as big as 25/4 to win in Southampton, but their success was fully deserved and shows that England have a fight on their hands if they want to win back the Wisden Trophy.
Jason Holder’s men outplayed England in the Test series in the Caribbean in 2018-19 but they were expected to struggle away from home, having not won a series in England since 1988.
However, they took the initiative from the off at the Ageas Bowl, hammered it home, weathered the fightback before securing a morale-boosting win in a three-match series.
All-round Team Performance
It is quite clear that the Windies strength lies in their bowling attack, certainly in the pace department, and that delivered throughout the contest.
However, the batsmen did their part too, despite a line-up that was shorn of two of their more talented players in Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer.
Kraigg Brathwaite and Shane Dowrich both scored half-centuries in the first innings, with contributions from John Campbell, Sharmarh Brooks and Roston Chase, while Jermaine Blackwood proved to be the hero in the second with a superb, disciplined 95 to steer his side to the verge of victory.
On the bowling front, Holder’s brilliant 6-42 destroyed England’s first-innings effort but Shannon Gabriel took the man-of-the-match award with figures of 4-62 and 5-75 to set up a what turned out to be a manageable chase.
Good Toss to Lose
There is of course no guarantee that Holder would have opted to bat first in the opening match had he won the toss, but questions will be raised over Ben Stokes’ decision given the conditions.
The thinking was that the pitch was only going to get worse, and that it was better to have first use rather than batting last, given both sides are stronger in the bowling department.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and who knows what would have happened had England bowled first but the deterioration never quite materialised and the Windies were able to negotiate the final day, despite a tricky start and some brilliant fast bowling from Jofra Archer.
It is worth remembering though that there were less than 18 overs bowled on day one and things may have been different had the weather not interfered with the first two days’ play.
Familiar Failings from England’s Top Order
There is no doubt that a better first innings from England would have made for a different game but forgiving that effort for the conditions and the excellent bowling from the tourists, a familiar problem emerged in the second innings.
Yes, all of the batsmen improved second time around but not one of them can say they found a ball too good, and to a man they all found ways to get out with some poor shots and misjudgements.
England would arguably have batted themselves into a position where they could not lose the Test had any one of the batsmen capitalised on their start, before Gabriel’s devastating spell in the late stages of day four wrestled the advantage back in the Windies’ favour.
Changes Afoot for England
Despite the improved effort in the second innings, there is still pressure on England’s top order although the line-up will be strengthened for the second Test with the return of Joe Root.
The two seemingly under most scrutiny would be Joe Denly and Zak Crawley but the latter’s solid 76 should be enough for him to retain his place, while he also has age on his side at 22.
Denly though is into the latter stages of his career at 34 and, although he rarely fails completely, he continually finds ways to get out with just six fifties in 28 innings with an average of 29.53.
Stuart Broad’s omission and subsequent interviews certainly caught the attention, with suggestions that maybe England underestimated their opponents, and it will be interesting to see if he comes straight back into the side on Thursday.
Although they are not quite as big as in the first Test, the West Indies are still perhaps not being seen as serious contenders from here on in as they are
9/2* to take an unassailable lead in the series later this week.
*Odds correct at time of writing.