“Stand up and fight back” is the text that the West Indies Twitter feed used during this Test. The quote is the title of a Jimmy Cliff Song.
At the start of this tour Stuart Law talked publicly about how he wanted his team to make history. But privately they were talking about fight. It’s not an official slogan, but Law made it very clear to them before the series started.
These are the toughest conditions for us; you are facing two of the best quick bowlers around, if you don’t fight, you won’t survive.
That tweet was sent out at tea on the second day when Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope were in the middle of their incredible partnership. In that morning session they had stood up, and in the afternoon they were fighting back.
Sixteen minutes and 15 seconds. That is how often the West Indies lost a wicket on the third day at Edgbaston. There were beach balls out on the ground longer than West Indies batsmen. They let themselves down; the fans, press and their own legends got stuck in. It was one of the worst days – even with some pretty dire ones over the last 20 years – in the history of West Indies cricket.
Jason Holder‘s post match press conference was a broken man trying to hold his rage in. He was sick and tired of losing, and being told how bad his team was. It wasn’t just that, the entire Test was hearing from plenty of people of how they should make a second division and put them in it, of how they didn’t deserve three Tests, of how they didn’t care, didn’t try, and certainly didn’t fight.
When Holder finished his press conference he went straight down to the change rooms and Law talked to the team.
Law was, is, firm. The positives were mentioned, but there weren’t many. Blackwood, Brathwaite and the good early start with the ball. Then the negatives were mentioned, they were probably glossed over as to name them one by one would have taken almost three days. In all, Law only spoke for about 15 minutes, or maybe it was sixteen, but on day three at Edgbaston, that was enough.
At the end of his talk, Law was clear: “Let’s hit back”.
Day four and five at Edgbaston became the days when West Indies broke their game down and built it back up again.
They practised hard on each day, and they also sat down for open meetings on both of these days in which they tried for brutal honesty. Each player spoke up about his game, saying ‘I wasn’t this, I have to be this…’ The overriding message was that they needed to change.
The reason for so much talk at Edgbaston was when they went to Headingley, they wanted to go there without the baggage.
The West Indies team psychologist is Steven Sylvester, also does work with Sheffield United, and he took the West Indies to Bramall Lane to see their game against Leicester City. The team was treated like VIPs, when they have announced the fans cheered, they got to talk to the coaches and players behind the scenes.
The reception was so good, so overwhelmingly positive, old men coming up to shake their hands, the crowd reaction and the treatment from Sheffield United itself, it was as if the West Indies had won the last Test.
Sheffield United were smashed, they lost 4-1.
The West Indian batsmen bowl in the nets. All the time, it is part of their training, more often than not you see batsmen in world cricket, faff about, pad themselves up, make gags, and then bat, before picking up their gear and leaving.
This team has grown up together, they are very close, and they see things like this as helping each other out. This has all been fostered by their assistant coaches, Roddy Estwick and Toby Radford.
Estwick has coached some of this team since they were 11 years old, Radford has been there since most of them were teenagers. There is still a genuine excitement that they all get to play together, and that they are in Tests.
The entire team is growing up together.
Once the West Indies arrived for this Test, they treated it as if it was normal. The problems had been discussed, dealt with, there was no need for more talk, they knew they had to fight, and they knew how.
On the first day that was with the ball. Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriellooked better on their own than the entire five-man attack had in the previous Test. Had they taken more of their chances they could have all but ended the match on the first day, but in the end they had to be pretty happy with England being out for 258.
The next day was theirs as well. When Brathwaite and Shai Hope came together it was tough, they had lost three early wickets, they were still haunted by Edgbaston. But Hope and Brathwaite passed England’s score on their own. For two days, they were almost as good as they were bad in the previous Test.
But as terrific as they were on the second day, they started day three losing two wickets in two balls. In the tour matches against Essex and Kent they lost early wickets and got themselves in trouble and fought back. So while Edgbaston was on everyone’s mind, they were thinking about their good times, they still thought they could fight back. And they did. Holder, Blackwood, and the tail got them a proper lead. Then the bowlers took early wickets, and created plenty of chances.
But their fielders didn’t take them, they dropped Joe Root when they could have destroyed England on day three, and then on day four they shelled Dawid Malan as well. And day four, well it wasn’t as bad as anything they managed at Edgbaston, but it was a pretty poor day of cricket. They looked directionless at times, and like they’d lost. And somehow after three top days of cricket, they went from favourites to rank outsiders.
642 teams have been set over 300 runs in a final innings chase, 29 have been successful. That is a 4.52% success rate. Look at the teams who have done it; they’ve had Bradman, Greenidge, Amla, and Younis in their teams. The West Indies side has Kieran Powell opening and Kyle Hope batting at three.
But at the press conference at the end of day four, their bowling coach Roddy Estwick said: “We’re still looking to win this Test match. We’ve got nothing to lose”.
The chorus of Jimmy Cliff’s Stand Up And Fight Back goes, “Stand up and fight back, You got nothing to lose”.
There was no chance to fight back this morning; this morning was about standing up. Brathwaite edged the ball straight to slip, Alastair Cook dropped it, Brathwaite edged straight to slip again, this time it landed inches in front of Tom Westley, and then finally he drove the ball straight back into Stuart Broad’s hands, and Stuart Broad dropped that as well. This was all in the morning, and it doesn’t include the many times he faced an incredible ball that he barely kept out.
Other batsmen would worry about this kind of start. Brathwaite is a bubble batsman, he’s batting, the outside world might be in flames, but he’s just focusing on the next ball. And once he was set, it would have been the first time England believed they had declared too early. Some batsmen enter zones that make them look un-dismissable, and that was Brathwaite’s afternoon.
But as he approached 100 for the second time this match, he showed signs of being a human. Brathwaite had tried to get away a wide one from Moeen Ali – perhaps with half a mind on getting his hundred before tea – and the edge flew into Ben Stokes chest.
It was Shai Hope who showed the emotion, waving his bat around in anger, looking away in disgust. Brathwaite, the man who has been making hundreds since the age of 13 like a robot, just looked confused. His walk off the ground looked like he was trying to come to grips with why he had to leave.
Hope and Brathwaite had faced 109 overs in this Test together, scoring 390 runs. Hope could have been forgiven if like elderly married partners, when one died, the other followed.
But if Brathwaite looked set, Hope looked regal. There was a back-foot drive so good, oh, so good, so so, so good. Until you see it, you don’t truly know what love is. It went through mid-off; it was as if it was too extraordinary to travel via cover, this one had to go straight.
And that is what Shai Hope does, plays shots of such aesthetic and cricket quality that you burst with high-pitched squeals, orgasmic sighs and nonsensical giggles. In this innings, even with Brathwaite struggling at times, the youngest man in the match batted like it was his birthright to succeed in Tests, maybe even this Test. For the longest time it looked like the only time there was a chance he’d get out was if his team mate drilled a drive and the ball was fumbled onto his stumps, which happened to his brother.
Even when it got tough after tea, with three successive maidens, Roston Chase was almost out every ball, balls keeping low, balls spitting up, reverse swing, Hope only looked marginally challenged.
When Shai Hope was six years old, he took a photo posing as a batsman using some new cricket gear. Behind him smiling is Clive Lloyd. Fifteen years later it was Lloyd who gave Hope his first Test cap. Today Lloyd would have smiled more than either of those two occasions.
It was Shai who said on day two after Jermaine Blackwood took ten runs off the last over that “Jermaine’s, Jermaine”.
Blackwood is something special; he’s a five-foot weapon of destruction, that can destroy the bowlers, himself, practically anything. He’s the last cold beer in your fridge, a beam of pure light, he’s a real life Tickle me Elmo. Today he was the whopping great cherry on West Indies ice cream cake of joy.
Blackwood stood back and humped a ball straight back over James Anderson’s head. He charged down at fast bowlers like they were club spinners. When the crowd started chanting, “Oh, Jimmy Anderson” it was like he misheard and thought it was for him. He attacked the new ball like it’d stolen his lunch money as a child. He almost fell over attempting something like a drunken Nat-Meg. He sliced a ball over third man’s head for six, and then walked down the pitch like he’d been named emperor of cricket, waiting for underpants and roses to be thrown at his feet.
West Indies had fought hard for four and two third days, and now it was party time, and no one parties like Jermaine; he parties on his own at two in the afternoon doing his taxes. So when he was within a boundary of winning the match, he gave away his helmet. If he was going to win this – and he deserved it after his great knock at Edgbaston – it was going to look pretty as hell, hitting the ball harder than Thor. Instead he was out, and pretty embarrassed.
It was left to Shai Hope to hit the winning runs. He came into this Test as a 23-year-old without a Test hundred, was ranked below Joe Burns, Jayant Yadav and Mark Craig in the ICC rankings, and had an average of 18.
Eighteen, and in the 534th first-class match played at Headingley this was the first time a man had made first-class hundreds in both innings. That is making history. That is standing up. And he stood up as he clipped the ball off his pad for two, the match-winning two.
The West Indies came into this Test having suffered one of their worst losses in history, ranked eighth in the world rankings, and of their last 87 away Tests they had won three.
Three, and for the fourth time in twenty years, they beat Jimmy and Broady, Root and Stokesy, England at home, and the Headingley clouds. And they stood up as they achieved one of the greatest comebacks in Tests. History. Stand up. Fight.
As Jimmy Cliff sang, “No matter what the people say,
Never, never, never run away.
You’re the youth, you’re the change, you’re the new
You’re the one to free yourself.”