West Indies repel late England rally to draw first Test in Antigua


Centuries from Zak Crawley and Joe Root, as well as Jack Leach’s three-for, meant England finished the first Test against West Indies as the stronger side but, nevertheless, had to settle for a draw to begin their heavily-discussed “red-ball reset.”

For Crawley in particular, his second international hundred was certainly a much-needed one. The Kent batsman has shown glimpses of talent in an England shirt but after averaging 10.08 in 2021 and subsequently losing his place in the squad, he will hope such a milestone can cement his place at the top of what has been an ever-changing batting lineup in recent years.

Having ended the hosts’ first innings with just the third ball of day four, England, and Crawley for that matter, almost made a dreaded start themselves when given out LBW by umpire Gregory Brathwaite facing just his third delivery.

While a review confirmed that Kemar Roach’s delivery was going on to miss leg-stump, the same could not be said for fellow opener, Alex Lees (6), who failed to hit a double-figure score on debut in either innings and was dismissed by Roach, once again LBW, leaving England at 24-1.

From that point onwards, however, Crawley’s innings was virtually faultless as he raced into the 30’s and eventually eased to the three figures that have eluded the 24-year-old ever since that majestic knock against Pakistan at the Ageas Bowl in the summer of 2020.

On the contrary, Root picked up where he had left off last year and seemed to be in total control from the moment he arrived at the crease. Admittedly, the Antiguan pitch favoured batting, yet, nothing can be taken away from the England skipper, who now holds the record for the most centuries as England captain.

Notably, it was also Root’s third ton when batting at three, something he looks set to continue to do for the foreseeable future.

Their partnership of 201 for the second wicket was not only significant in the construction of a lead worth 161 runs but also provided Root and England with a platform to demonstrate a newfound sense of bravery that had been desperately absent across Chris Silverwood’s tenure as head coach.

That attitude was first exhibited on the morning of day five, with Crawley finally undone on 121 by a tremendous yorker from Jason Holder. In came Dan Lawrence (37) who signalled his intentions without hesitation, freeing his arms and dispatching anything that had a hint of width or was pitched an inch too short.

The undoubted highlight of his 36-ball cameo was a glorious drive back over the head of Holder that went all the way for six.

Alzarri Joseph eventually bowled Root for 109 before contributions from Ben Stokes (13), Jonny Bairstow (15*) and Chris Woakes (18*) helped their side to a score of 349-6, enough to persuade their captain to declare shortly prior to lunch, a stark contrast to the mentality displayed by Root in a Test match against New Zealand at Lord’s last summer where he effectively did not trust his players to swiftly chase down a score.

Once Kraigg Brathwaite (33) and John Campbell (22) had managed to navigate 25 overs of the new ball and post an opening partnership worth 59, a draw was unequivocally the likeliest of outcomes.

Though, as he so often is, Ben Stokes was the man to make something happen for his country. The all-rounder was only meant to chip in here and there with the ball but instead ended up bowling more than 40 overs, it was his good length delivery that kept low and pinned Brathwaite LBW.

Campbell soon followed his captain back to the pavilion following an ill-fated and mistimed attempt to hit Jack Leach over mid-on which resulted in him picking out the hands of Craig Overton.

Speculative optimism began to change into rekindled belief on the verge of tea as Leach took his second and was rewarded for his toil with the wicket of Shamarh Brooks (5) who was caught magnificently by Crawley at slip, leaving West Indies 65-3.

There were still 36 overs remaining in the day when Jermaine Blackwood (2) played a dreadful shot off Leach and was out LBW, leaving those of an English persuasion confident that victory was possibly in sight with six wickets needed.

However, as they did in the first innings, Nkrumah Bonner (38*) and Jason Holder (47*) combined efficiently and withstood the necessary pressure to post an uneaten partnership of 82, the former would deservedly be named man of the match.

Their defiance did contain elements of controversy nonetheless, Holder, on just 13 at the time, would have been given out on referral if the tourists had challenged an LBW shout in the 49th over, whilst he was arguably fortunate to survive an umpire referral in the 65th over with it unclear if Holder had edged onto his own boot.

Bonner, once more, navigated the scenario expertly and corrected an umpiring decision after being given out LBW.

England, certainly, did not throw the towel in, but the injury suffered by Mark Wood and a couple of rain stoppages on the evening day four are the fine margins that just went against Root’s side.

Ultimately, it was an improved showing and one interim head coach Paul Collingwood will take faith from.

The second Test begins on Wednesday at 14:00 GMT in Barbados.

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