To say normalcy has returned to England cricket will not be wrong. Their batsmen, Dominic Sibley and Ben Stokes, steadied the ship in gloomy conditions with their 126 (306) runs partnership on the first day of the second Test against West Indies at the Old Trafford.
‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’. The famous saying perfectly describes the stubborn batting display of both the batsmen. They played a huge role in bringing the game back in the English camp, after it had tilted to the other side.
Sibley with an unconventional stance, stood out from the start. He left the balls early and late. He blocked with a straight bat and with a dangled one too. He saw the new ball get old. When he edged the ball he was dropped. He saw his team mates come and go. He made partnerships. He scored runs by running between the wickets and hitting fours. He came back for lunch; and returned for tea. He stayed on till close of play and left the Windies high and dry. All said, he survived by making an 86 off 253 balls.
To dismiss the opener, the West Indies pacers bowled him at his weak spot, that is on or outside the leg-stump line regularly. He dealt with it sometimes half-heartedly and sometimes willingly. But he remained unbeaten.
While Stokes, unlike the first Test, did not play his shots, neither did he walk down the wicket. It looked like he was in no mood to score runs and was only looking to stay with his partner, Sibley. When Roach bowled round the wicket, the all-rounder did come out of the crease to play him. But soon, he rectified his mistake. Just before tea, perhaps, bored of running lot of runs due to the slow outfield, the southpaw stepped out to hit a six straight down the ground off Chase. It was the first six of the series! After that, he kept his shots along the ground.
Earlier today, it was a delayed start due to rain. Despite opting to bowl in overcast conditions, the visitors did not reap the benefits of the new ball on a pitch that is reputed to be the quickest in whole of England. Their bowlers got the ball to swing but then lacked rhythm. Also, they were inconsistent with both line and length. All the four bowlers tried — first, Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel in tandem, followed by Alzarri Joseph and Jason Holder — none of them found what their team wanted – a breakthrough.
Whereas, England openers Rory Burns and Sibley stood in the middle, leaving the ball, tapping the damp pitch, running the occasional singles. Looking comfortable. Thinking they had won the first session, until Roston Chase, at the stroke of lunch, in his over, trapped Burns on the knee roll, plumb. The left-hander reviewed the decision in vain.
The Barbadian resumed the second session, to finish his over. And on the very first ball, he dismissed young Zak Crawley, who inside-edged onto the pad to find the leg-slip fielder. Skipper Joe Root negated the hat-trick and negotiated the next three balls.
The visitors started cheering their bowlers more compared to the first session. For they bowled well much better than morning. But Gabriel was not up to the mark, from the very first ball of his spell. After bowling his seventh over, the 32-year-old walked off the field complaining an injury. He was back again, but still that rhythm was missing.
Root’s loud shout of ‘No’ or his efforts of keeping the score ticking, did give a feeling that he had settled, on the other end, Sibley had struck his first boundary in 91 deliveries. Spinner was taken off, it was pace from both ends, field was a bit spread and slips were on. The pair brought up a much-needed 52-run partnership. But soon after a drinks break, Root perished when edging an away going good length ball off Joseph to the waiting hands of Holder in the second slip. England were 81-3.
At stumps, England were in control with 207-3 on board. If the weather, with forecasts of rain tomorrow, permits, the hosts will leave no stone unturned to post a big first innings score.
Before the start of play a lot happened. The players, support staff and umpires took a knee in solidarity to support the Black Lives Matter movement. And hours before that, Jofra Archer was dropped from the squad for breaching the protocols of bio-secured environment. England's pace bowling now will be sans pace.
Cover picture credits: Meena Trade