|First Test, day three, Ageas Bowl|
|England 204 (Stokes 43, Holder 6-42) & 15-0|
|West Indies 318 (Brathwaite 65, Dowrich 61, Stokes 4-49)|
|England trail by 99|
England are under huge pressure in the first Test after West Indies took a first-innings lead of 114 on day three in Southampton.
From 57-1 overnight, the tourists were eventually bowled out for 318, with Kraigg Brathwaite making 65, Shane Dowrich 61 and Roston Chase 47.
In doing so, they took advantage of improved batting conditions under sunny skies at the empty ground, but also put England’s 204 all out into context.
The home side at least battled through a tough 40-minute spell to start their second innings as openers Rory Burns and Dom Sibley reached 15-0, a deficit of 99.
Without a crowd to lift them, England’s bowlers struggled at times.
Stand-in captain Ben Stokes provided inspiration with 4-49, James Anderson nagged away for 3-62 and off-spinner Dom Bess impressed in taking 2-51, but the extra pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood did not make an impact.
That will only fuel the debate over the decision to drop Stuart Broad, who candidly spoke of being “angry, frustrated and gutted” to be left out.
However, England are behind in this match because they did not get enough runs after choosing to bat first in grey and damp conditions.
They must put in an improved batting display on Saturday in order to set West Indies a testing target to chase on a pitch that is likely to deteriorate.
West Indies show England the way
The arguments for and against the omission of Broad are both valid. On the one hand, it seems confusing that England left out their second highest Test wicket-taker, and the second highest in the world in the past year, in conditions that may well have suited him.
However, the complaint during England’s previous two awful tours of Australia has been their lack of pace, and using Archer and Wood now is one way of preparing for the 2021-22 Ashes.
There is a danger of that argument masking what has happened so far in this match, namely that West Indies have adapted to the conditions, lack of crowd and truncated preparation better than England.
While some of the England dismissals on the second day could have been put down to a lack of practice, the tourists showed on Friday that excuse does not hold much water.
Just as they did in winning when these sides met in the Caribbean in 2019, the West Indies batsmen showed patience, stubbornness and determination, moving their side into a very strong position.
West Indies have not won a series in this country since 1988, but have shown enough in the first three days of this match to suggest England face a battle to keep that record intact.
Batsmen grind it out
This was a collective effort by West Indies. Although no player went on to make a huge score, they put together several meaningful partnerships, rarely gifted wickets and ensured they never fell in clusters.
Their willingness to occupy the crease was epitomised by Chase, who dug in to such an extent that he scored only 14 runs between lunch and tea.
He picked up the mantle left by Brathwaite, the obdurate opener moving from his overnight 20 with tucks and nudges into the leg side.
Flair was provided by the handsome drives that made up Shamarh Brooks’ 39, while the combative Dowrich arrived at 186-5 and marshalled the lower order up to and beyond 300, surviving a sharp caught-and-bowled chance offered to Bess when on 25.
When England came to bat, they were faced with a tricky evening period in which the West Indies fielders were chirpy and their bowlers on the money.
Playing and missing on numerous occasions, Sibley and Burns clung on for 10 overs to give the home side a much-needed boost.
England made to work hard
While England’s bowlers were not afforded the assistance West Indies enjoyed over the first two days, it is also fair to point out the home side did not hit the right lengths as consistently as the tourists.
They particularly struggled in the morning session, when Archer and Wood were lively but ineffective, even if Archer had Shai Hope lbw with a no-ball.
The improvement was led by Anderson, who had Brathwaite lbw and Brooks caught behind, and Bess, who dragged Hope into edging a drive and persuaded Jermaine Blackwood to slap to mid-off.
When Archer dropped his pace he was more threatening, but it was a frustrating day for him and Wood, who was heard on the stump microphone lamenting his lack of success.
The spark, as it usually does, came from Stokes, the skipper producing a fiery spell to have opposite number Jason Holder and Dowrich fall to short balls, either side of bowling Alzarri Joseph.
Wood finally got his reward by yorking last man Shannon Gabriel, raising both fists in exhausted celebration.
‘We have to bat the whole day tomorrow’ – what they said
England bowler James Anderson on BBC Test Match Special: “We’re certainly behind at the moment. We have a lot of work to do to get back into the game.
“We have to bat the whole day tomorrow and get a decent lead to give us any chance of winning the game.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan: “I don’t think there are a huge amount of gremlins on this surface, so someone hould be able to get a big score.”
West Indies limited-overs all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite: “West Indies will be very pleased. The batters got in, showed discipline and stuck it out in the difficult periods.”