At the end of another day of hot, sweaty toil, West Indies had provided another show of the character that Phil Simmons hopes to instil in this side. The scene had moved from Antigua to Grenada but West Indies, thanks to an innings of discipline and application from Marlon Samuels, were once again feeling in the pink. England were left looking a little bit red and a little bit ragged, despite only having to get through 70 overs after rain cut the morning session in half.
The portents had been more promising for England, after winning the toss and inserting West Indies in helpful conditions. Having called correctly, Alastair Cook then received a second stroke of luck, with the news that Jerome Taylor, who menaced England’s top three in the first Test, had been ruled out with a shoulder injury.
When James Anderson produced a sonic-booming inswinger in his second over to remove Kraigg Brathwaite it appeared everyone had received the script. The sight of England’s leading Test wicket-taker bending the ball adroitly in either direction was doubly heartening for the tourists, after his struggle for lateral movement in Antigua.
Chris Jordan, too, had an early success but England’s four-man seam attack was only intermittently probing. If their figures looked tidy enough, this was as much down to the batsmen not being required to play, as anything particularly unplayable. Cloud cover lingered until late in the day but the feeling persisted that their lengths had not been full enough to exploit it. A couple of dropped catches added to the sense of frustration.
West Indies were in need of some doughty defiance and it came from an unexpected quarter. Samuels’ dismissal as they attempted to salvage the Antigua Test bore the mark of lazy profligacy so often associated with his batting but on this occasion he showed the stomach for a fight – noticeably so during some feisty exchanges with Ben Stokes in the evening session.
Having taken 21 balls to get off the mark, Samuels battled through to his half-century and finished the day six runs shy of a seventh Test hundred, when bad light brought an early close. He spun the wheel on occasion – too much self-denial is not good for such a carefree soul – but was blessed by fortune, surviving an lbw review against the returning Moeen Ali on umpire’s call and then dropped by Cook at first slip on 32, driving at Jordan. By then, Cook surely knew his own luck had run out.
England did succeed with a review against Jermaine Blackwood, shortly after Stuart Broad had missed a return chance off his own bowling, but Samuels opened up his shoulders during an unbroken sixth-wicket stand with his captain, Denesh Ramdin. From 44 off 139 balls, Samuels hit 50 from his next 47, his blade flashing in more familiar style; when their fifty partnership came up, Ramdin had contributed four.
It was a position of relative security that looked unlikely earlier on. Dotted all over the hills surrounding the National Stadium in St George’s are houses built on stilts. With the ball darting around, the footing for West Indies’ batsmen was equally precarious. Runs were hard to come by and both openers fell before lunch; England claimed two more in the middle session, though this time they were firmly ascribed to batsman error.
Darren Bravo had twice edged Anderson short of the cordon during his first spell – a sign that the pitch was not overly quick – but he buckled up and left well until inexplicably guiding Broad to slip after two hours of hard work in seeing off the new ball. Shivnarine Chanderpaul then scooped a full Stokes delivery into the hands of Moeen , diving forward at point, and West Indies were indeed wobbling at 74 for 4.
Stokes had jarred his left knee while fielding midway through the second session but he was able to bowl and touched 90mph. His combative approach, mixing in the odd full toss and overzealous overthrow, was welcome, with England’s bowlers otherwise seemingly affected by the soporific atmosphere.
They could be forgiven a certain amount of lethargy, having sent down 129.4 overs in the fourth innings in Antigua. Four days later they were back in the field, looking to make capital in conditions that were more receptive to swing bowling. The humidity and dampness of the surface, which placed a heavy tax on run-scoring, encouraged Cook to attack with the ball. Ramdin admitted he would have done the same.
The teams had travelled south to the Windward Islands for the second Test and the more tropical conditions were in evidence as only an hour’s play was possible on a showery morning. Heavy overnight rain had cleared before the scheduled toss but further squally weather delayed the start by an hour and 45 minutes.
The line of England’s attack was not as threatening as it could have been but they removed both openers inside 14 overs – though Devon Smith was perhaps unfortunate to be given out caught behind after appearing to hit the ground whilst driving.
In Jordan’s second over, Smith was put down by Gary Ballance, stationed at leg gully for the flick off the pads – the chance was a sharp one but Ballance, having got one hand to the ball, might have been expected to hold on – but the batsman did not last much longer, given out attempting an expansive cover drive three balls later. He elected not to review and although replays suggested he had not hit it, without Hot Spot or the Snickometer, overturning the decision would not have been straightforward.
There was no doubt about the delivery that cleaned up Brathwaite, which was vintage Anderson. His first over, a series of gentle outswingers, barely touched 80mph, although Brathwaite edged the final delivery on the bounce to second slip. Tired, Jimmy? No, just getting warmed up. He started his second over with a banana ball that nearly knocked Brathwaite off his feet, swerving in late from well outside off to hit middle and leg. Test wicket No. 385.
That hinted at a potential clatter of wickets but there was little to rouse a healthy crowd, disappointed at the failure of Smith, the first Grenadian to play a Test at the ground. At least until Samuels’ riposte.