NORTH SOUND—Ian Bell hit an imperious century as England overcame early West Indian pressure to take control on day one of the first Test in Antigua. Bell fell for a an authoritative 143 in the penultimate over but his 22nd Test hundred provided the backbone in England’s 341 for five. The tourists had threatened to collapse in the morning, slumping to 34 for three after Jonathan Trott, Alastair Cook and Gary Ballance all departed early but Bell found a willing accomplice in Joe Root, as the pair added 177 for the fourth wicket.
Root’s dismissal opened a door for the West Indies but returning allrounder Ben Stokes slammed it shut emphatically, racing to 71 not out in 80 balls as the hosts crumbled in the last hour. Bell’s exit, after 256 deliveries, 20 fours and a six, offered some solace to the hosts but with Stokes flaying the second new ball to all parts the celebrations were muted. Denesh Ramdin’s decision to insert England looked brave but quickly paid dividends.
There was an inauspicious start from the new opening partnership of Cook and Trott, the latter restored to the side 18 months after leaving the 2013/14 with a career-threatening bout of situational anxiety. His recall, ahead of Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth, lasted just three Jerome Taylor balls, the last of which sailed to slip off the outside edge. Cook was fortunate to see a nick of his own fall short in the next over but he still managed just 11.
Without a Test hundred in almost two years, he gave a brief reminder of his class when he eased Kemar Roach through the covers for four but the bowler exacted swift revenge. Three balls later he located a gap between bat and pad, parting the England captain’s stumps before wheeling away in celebration. It was a messy dismissal for the skipper, whose search for a major score continues.
Ballance is also struggling, apparently laid low by a mutually unhelpful stint in the one-day side. The sure-footed batsman who scored three Test centuries last summer has become increasingly tentative and here scraped ten runs in 46 balls. He was clearly frustrated at his slow progress, throwing his arms a wider delivery from Jason Holder and handing Bravo his second catch of the day.
The hosts were firing but soon hit a roadblock in Bell and Root. The former took 20 balls to get off the mark, but did so with a sweetly struck cover drive.
At lunch England were 49 for three but the afternoon session was decisively theirs, containing 118 runs and no further wickets. Bell was leaving judiciously and looked in full control when hitting square of the wicket. Root, meanwhile, picked Sulieman Benn as the weak link in the attack. The spinner managed to beat the bat a couple of times in the morning session but too often he was guilty of missing his length.
In the 33rd over, Taylor’s ninth, Bell saw a thick edge race to the third man boundary—a moral victory for the paceman but four runs for England’s vice-captain. The duo brought up the fifty partnership in exactly 100 balls and Bell’s own half-century followed, Benn dropping short again and getting whipped through mid-wicket. Root reached 50 with an effortless punch down the ground from Holder and when Ramdin asked Roach and Taylor to return to the attack, they were considerably less menacing.
Ramdin turned to the gentle spin of Marlon Samuels after tea, who had Root dropped by Benn on 71. Samuels’ head dropped as his next over went for 13, including a steepling six from Bell over long-off. Root added 12 more before his number was up, dragging the ball into his stumps after Taylor found a hint of extra bounce outside off.
Bell was playing with greater control and moved through the nineties methodically while new man Ben Stokes dashed to 20 at almost a run per ball. Bell’s hundred came from a rare lapse, Samuels finding the outside edge only to see the trajectory wrongfoot Bravo at slip. Stokes managed to steal the limelight in the final hour, going after the tiring bowlers mercilessly.
He played with aggression and intent, thriving on an endless supply of modest short bowling. Stokes transformed a good day into a superb one for his side, peppering the boundary ropes before Bell was undone by a gem from Roach.