What a win!
After the entirety of the 3rd day was abolished by the Manchester weather, England, after being in a dominant position courtesy of a monumental 260 run partnership between Ben Stokes and Dom Sibley, had seemingly no chance of winning back the Wisden trophy.
The West Indians sighed in relief as they knew that it would take a supernatural effort to win this game but they celebrated too soon.
Ben Stokes (AKA Mr.Incredible as described by his captain), in addition to his first-innings heroics, lead the way with a swashbuckling 76 as he provided England with enough time and runs to have a chance of winning the game.
In the final innings, Jermaine Blackwood and Shamarh Brooks fought valiantly yet in vain as the West Indians were no match for a pumped-up Stuart Broad as he reminded Ed Smith of what a force he is in English conditions. The team put in a well-rounded bowling and fielding performance and the day’s play was perfectly summarised by an incredible grab from Ollie Pope at short leg.
England is finally going in the right direction.
Despite the euphoria of winning, the series is not over just yet as both sides have one win apiece. England will be fighting for a chance to redeem themselves after that embarrassing loss in the Caribbean last time they toured there while the West Indians will be wanting the distinction of winning away in England.
In summary, a lot is at stake and both sides will be raring to go…
Selection wise, both teams will have to make some really tough decisions on who to play:
The West Indians have battled with courage with no success in this test match but the reality is that they have to select a team worthy of winning the last test match and hence worthy of lifting the Wisden trophy.
The West Indies’s main asset in this series is their pack of fast bowlers and the way they complement each other seamlessly. They all have different attributes and skills for every situation and that is what makes them so difficult to bat against.
Obviously, they will want to play their best side to give themselves a chance of winning the series but they have to take the workloads of their fast bowlers into account.
All 4 of their fast bowlers have played both 2 test matches so far and 2 of them(Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph) have already got injury concerns.
The sensible option is to inject some fresh blood into the team but the West Indies’s back up fast bowlers are all raw and inexperienced. Is it worth the risk?
On the other hand, winning in England would mean so much for West Indian cricket and it would be a crime to leave out your best bowlers in such a crucial match. But if you select them there is a risk that one of them could get severely injured and out for a long time and even if they don’t get injured, there is always the possibility that they will not perform to their high standards.
Now over to the spin department: the pitch at Old Trafford at the 2nd test was more than conducive to spin as even Roston Chase was able to turn the ball and seeing that the 3rd test match is at Old Trafford as well, a 2nd spinner seems a good option.
If the West Indies were to select a 2nd spinner to perhaps fill in a gap made by resting one of the fast bowlers, the obvious solution is Rahkeem Cornwall. When you look past his immense size and weight, Rahkeem Cornwall is a 6 foot 5 spinner who can land the ball with metronomic accuracy while generating steep bounce.
Cornwall is, in my opinion, a far superior bowler to Chase and he would also provide a surprise factor as no English batsmen would have ever faced him before. He could run through the English left-handers.
Personally, selecting Cornwall is a must, due to his surprise factor, and he could be the point of difference between the sides.
Batting wise, West Indies have no massive concerns as most of the batsmen have played out of their skin but Shai Hope has been a massive disappointment.
Shai Hope looks like a class player aesthetically but in this series, and even before that, he has been in abysmal form in test cricket. He’s been so bad that his average is lower than Kemar Roaches since the start of 2018.
Just let that sink in…
For such an incredible accumulator of runs in white-ball cricket, his test match form has been appalling and the West Indies might think of dropping him ahead of such a crucial match.
But do they have any choice?
The West Indies aren’t exactly abundant in batting talent so Shai Hope, a proven run-scorer on the international arena albeit in white-ball cricket, might just be the only option.
And they may also think that selecting Hope is worth the gamble as they know about what a brilliant match-winner he can be when he is on song. Remember the twin hundreds he got in Headingley. Maybe they think that he can do it again.
The West Indies have some thinking to do…
England have momentum on their side after their brilliant victory at Old Trafford but that does not mean that they don’t have any tricky selection decisions to overcome:
Similarly to the West Indies, England’s biggest strength is their bowling attack as they are fortunate enough to possess the most successful duo in fast bowling history in James Anderson and Stuart Broad and the 2 fastest bowlers in the world in Jofra Archer and Mark Wood.
However, unlike the West Indies, they have some very solid backup options in Sam Curran, a left-handed bowler with consistent uncanny wicket-taking ability, and Chris Woakes, the opening bowler in that victorious world cup campaign. This depth can sometimes provide England with welcome selection headaches on which fast bowler to pick.
In this 2nd test match, Broad produced a match-defining spell that reminded Ed Smith of what a force of nature he still is in English conditions while Woakes proved again to be England’s Mr consistent in home conditions as he toiled away and bowled admirably.
Despite not playing quite as well as his fellow seam bowling counterparts, Sam Curran proved once again that he is a bowler who can make things happen as he snared Shamarh Brooks just when England were beginning to get nervous.
All 3 of them have made compelling cases to be retained for the final test but in their way stands the most successful fast bowler in history in James Anderson, the man who took international cricket by storm in Jofra Archer, who was meant to play in this test match until he breached the coronavirus protocol, and arguably the fastest bowler in the world in Mark Wood.
The most obvious selection would be to play Archer, Anderson, Broad and obviously Stokes while leaving out Mark Wood, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes. The reason being is that the experience and consistency of Anderson and Broad will be a perfect foil for the match-winning pace of Jofra Archer.
You could argue that Mark Wood could perform the same role equally effectively but the special thing about Jofra Archer is that he doesn’t have to be bowling at full pelt to get wickets whereas Mark Wood does.
However, will England want to completely break apart a bowling attack that had just won you the test especially seeing that Chris Woakes and, to some extent, Sam Curran both bowled very well on this pitch?
Besides, leaving out both Sam Curran and Chris Woakes denies England from having immense depth in the batting lineup as last test match Dom Bess, a player who has a more than handy batting average of 25, was forced to bat at number 10. In close games, the batting ability of the tailenders can often be the point of difference and Curran and Woakes definitely provide that.
On the other side of the coin, I believe that when you are picking your bowling attack your priority should be the quality of the bowler and any extra batting ability comes as a welcome bonus. Due to this ideology, I believe that England’s best bowling attack consists of Broad, Anderson, Archer and Stokes even though Curran and Woakes may be handier batsmen.
Despite me saying Archer is a must pick, there have been rumours that Jofra Archer will not be picked as he was meant to play the 2nd test and then be rested for the 3rd one. However, his biosecure bubble breach meant that he was not allowed to play the match in which he was meant to play in and is now in a position that he may be selected for a game he was supposed to be rested for.
Bearing in mind that the selectors have shown that they have a stubborn streak, it may be that they are not prepared to change their selection plans for one person no matter how good he is. If this is the case, Mark Wood would be a like for like replacement for Archer but I emphasise that I think that this is very unlikely, seeing that England will be desperate to win this match, but not impossible.
In the spin bowling department, I don’t think that there is any chance of Dom Bess being replaced despite him not offering the control that England needed consistently but I think England have good reason to back their young off-spinner as he will only improve with experience.
Despite me saying this, Jack Leach turning the ball away from the West Indian’s many right-handers (the one left-hander they do have, John Campbell, hasn’t got any runs and is not a threat) is a tantalising prospect but, again, unlikely.
England will have some slight concerns over the form of Ollie Pope and Rory Burns but not to the extent that they would contemplate dropping them as they have both shown their credentials in previous series.
However, a player that England should be having 2nd thoughts about is Jos Buttler as he was handed two opportunities in situations that suited him perfectly and the best he come up with was an unspectacular 40 and a duck.
You can argue that he was playing for the team but this lack of runs has been for too long. 1 century in 42 tests is just not acceptable by any standards. Poor old Ben Foakes has been waiting in the wings for what seems an age and he should be given a fair opportunity.
But while Ed Smith is head selector, this is a mere fantasy but that does not stop me from hoping…
This test match has so much at stake, not just because it decides the series, as it could prove to be a launchpad for greater success for both of these teams:
A series win for the West Indies would provide them with the confidence that they have won in England, something the mighty Indians could not do, and it could help them find that world-beating quality that has been missed for too long now.
If England won, it would mark the start of a new era of English cricket as the focus slowly starts to shift to red-ball cricket and England will begin their perilous voyage to away from home Ashes greatness and a win would give them a much-needed boost of confidence for all the young players.
The stakes involved with winning this test match makes the selection even more important than ever before and they must get this right as their team’s future could depend on this. A minuscule error in judgement could be disastrous but a flawless series of decisions could catapult either of these teams to glory.
Luckily for us, we don’t have to make these crucial decisions as all we do is speculate about them and then wait for the mayhem to unfold!