England endure agonizing moments on the pitch but door remains ajar in second West Indies Test

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On a long, hot day on the pitch, there were two agonizing moments of missed opportunity for England on a pitch that remains as flat as it was when they racked up 500 points for the fourth times only in five years.

The first was in the morning session. Ben Stokes had just collected Nkrumah Bonner, irremovable in Antigua, with a controversial lbw (did he hit it?), their second wicket of the day after Jack Leach had Shamarh Brooks caught lazily in the backseat.

Stokes, with the old ball in his hand, found a small reverse swing. Jermaine Blackwood was new to the fold and still aimless. Stokes kicked a ball behind his back and every England outfielder appealed. Referee Nigel Duguid, on his test debut, said no.

Stokes was content with the decision, returning to his mark. He thought he was slipping down the leg and had no interest in the DRS, although his teammates – including captain Joe Root – seemed keen to use one of their three available crits. As is so often the case, Stokes won the argument. The ball crashed into the stump of the leg.

The second came after tea. To date, Blackwood had 65 and his partnership with Kraigg Brathwaite – approaching his 10th Test ton – was worth 128. England were on his 96th on the pitch.

Saqib Mahmood, one of two England debutants, produced a magnificent yorker that slipped under Blackwood’s bat and into the stumps. England is off to a party.

Duguid, however, had received a message from the third referee, and held out his arm: no ball.

The moment was agony for Mahmood and his teammates. But, for many of them, it was familiar. Mahmood is just the latest England bowler to have his first Test wicket denied by an overrun: think Stokes in 2013, Mark Wood in 2015, Tom Curran in 2017 and Mason Crane in 2018. Even in the ashes this winter, Stokes, Ollie Robinson and Chris Woakes all had wickets chalked up for this reason.

This is an inexcusable error that no longer goes unnoticed. Mahmood had pushed the line, and it was his fifth unballed run of the set. Every time this has happened England sincerely say they will fix it in training, but basic mistakes continue to be made.

By stumps, with the West Indies 288 for four (those mistakes seemed so costly. Blackwood had followed Brathwaite in reaching his hundred, his third in Tests and second against England, for whom he always kept the best, before falling way With specialist partnership breaker Dan Lawrence brought in for a speculative late spell, Blackwood merely shouldered arms.He reviewed in disbelief, but was not saved.

Much damage, however, had been done. Both captain and vice-captain played with composure and control as they shared 183, a stand that sucked a lot of air out of England’s winning hopes.

As England’s bowling resources were stretched thin (two legends were deliberately ignored, while six are injured or ill), England’s limits were visible.

Chris Woakes, theoretically the leader of the attack, was helpless and neglected, playing just 16 of 117 overs. Matt Fisher played well, but he’s raw. With Mahmood and Stokes playing well, there were threatening spells, but that never really happened. Leach wasn’t quite at his best, but had little help from the pitch.

There were no serious pitch errors, but things got a bit flat, and Ben Foakes missed a very tough stump chance against Brathwaite late in the day. With the last ball of the day, they got their reviews wrong again, for a bat-pad scream from night watchman Alzarri Joseph.

It remains possible that on the last day, the pitch and the game will spit in life. For this, they will have to start the fourth day brilliantly to keep the door – which remains ajar – open.


standard Sport

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