A sixth Test hundred from Joe Root helped England to a position of increasing dominance in Grenada, as they wore down West Indies during an extended day in the field. Almost 50 overs were lost from the match over the first two days but with cloud cover and swinging conditions replaced by unbroken sunshine and a flat, if slow, surface, England were approaching a position from where they could bat once and then push for victory.
England’s old guard had set the tone at the start of the day, then left it to two of the youth corps to press home their advantage. Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott both recorded fifties during a century opening stand – England’s first since 2013 – and although Cook fell short of reaching three figures himself, another strong showing from Root and Gary Ballance in the middle order helped England to a 74-run lead at the close.
Going back to last summer, Root has now made six consecutive 50-plus scores, equalling England’s Test record. Cook is one of four other batsmen to have achieved the same feat, along with Patsy Hendren, Ken Barrington and Ted Dexter – no one has more than seven in a row.
Increasingly, Root is the bundle of energy, the dog chasing a piece of silver paper, who sets the tempo for England in the middle order. In partnership with his Yorkshire team-mate Ballance, he helped add 165 for the fourth wicket in little over 40 overs, taking the game away from West Indies with every impish stolen single, not to mention the odd blow for six. Since being dropped for the final Ashes Test in Sydney last year, he has scored more than 1000 runs at an average of 103.70.
Devendra Bishoo wheeled away, bowling 22 overs in succession and doing a much better job of keeping things tight than Sulieman Benn in Antigua, but when he returned in the evening session, his first over was taken for 16 by Root and Ballance. Bishoo did claim his first Test wicket since in 2012, removing Trott with a hard-spun legbreak, and then picked up Ben Stokes, caught on the boundary in pursuit of quick runs late in the day, but figures of 2 for 124 spoke of West Indies’ toil.
Ian Bell was the only member of the top five not to pass 50, although West Indies did hit back to take 3 for 35 in the final session. Moeen Ali made his first Test duck when running himself out after calling Root for a single that wasn’t there, while Stokes also fell for a single-figure score – and got a salute from Marlon Samuels to send him on his way.
This match may be taking place on the Spice Island but there was something reassuringly bland about England’s approach in the first session. With play starting 15 minutes early, 34 overs were possible and 69 runs were scored. Cook and Trott, then Cook and Ballance were content to accumulate balls faced, in the knowledge that laying a strong foundation was the most important task.
England’s second fifty had taken Cook and Trott 145 balls, as they methodically re-scratched their groove from the previous evening; the fifth and sixth, with Root and Ballance in full flow, came off 61 and 65 respectively. At one point, Denesh Ramdin delayed taking the new ball and called upon Jermaine Blackwood’s part-time offspin – his single over disappeared for 14. England added 120 during the evening and will begin with Jos Buttler at the crease alongside Root on Friday.
The sight of Cook and Trott batting together was something England once took for granted. The two have scored almost 2700 Test runs in partnership, their successes redolent of England’s march to No. 1 in the Test rankings between 2009 and 2011. This was the 10th time they had racked up a century stand together and the first since the Headingley Test against New Zealand in 2013.
It was also England’s first century partnership at the top of the innings since Cook and Nick Compton put on 231 in Dunedin in March 2013. Trott’s half-century was a poignant milestone. His previous Test fifty came at The Oval during the 2013 Ashes; many thought the following Test, in Brisbane, would be his last after he left that tour, burned out and uncertain of his professional future.
Cook has also had his struggles over the last two years but he was creeping to within sight of a 26th Test hundred when Shannon Gabriel struck for the first of two wickets in seven balls. On a slow pitch, cross-batted strokes can be perilous and, cramped for room, Cook only succeeded in cutting the ball on to his stumps. Bell fell in almost identical fashion in Gabriel’s next over, this time off stump removed from the ground. On St George’s Day, it was a warning: here be drag-ons.
Trott’s had been the only wicket to fall during the morning session, though he had acquitted himself during a spell of short-pitched bowling from Gabriel that topped 94mph. West Indies were without their best bowler, Jerome Taylor, and conditions were benign but the 125-run association between Cook and Trott was a bit like seeing the old gang back together. Then came Root and Ballance and another prolific double-act with plenty of time to run.