Yesterday England’s batsmen had their best opportunity all series to score some runs. The pitch wasn’t easy but the Windies attack was seriously depleted. Their captain, Jason Holder, was sitting in the stands. And his replacement Keemo Paul was carted off the field with a nasty looking injury. Suddenly the remaining Windies quicks had a lot more work to do, and fatigue inevitably set in.
Enter the two Joes. Neither had looked convincing thus far on tour. Root had received some unplayable deliveries and Denly had looked as nervous as a virgin at a brothel. But yesterday was a different story. Perhaps buoyed by a complete lack of scoreboard pressure, Denly looked rather composed for a batsman playing for his test future.
The man of Kent defended stoutly, drove elegantly, and basically looked like the high class prospect he was as a youngster. What a shame his career didn’t really pan out the way his admirers (which included myself) thought it would.
It was a real shame that Denly didn’t make his ton. He was playing so well. The manner of his dismissal was disappointing too. Having played a wafty cut at a wide ball and missed by a whisker, he inexplicably repeated the shot next ball and nicked it behind this time. It was a real head in hands moment.
On the positive side, Joe might have played himself into contention for an Ashes spot with his eye-pleasing half-century. The Aussies have a swarm of nasty fast bowlers and he generally looked unruffled by the pace of Gabriel and Joseph. It reminded me of the time when Denly looked a class above the other Lions batsmen when England’s second string played the Aussies back in 2009. Brett Lee bowled rapidly and took 6-76. Denly swatted him away off front foot and back with aplomb, and looked like he had all the time in the world to play his shots.
On the negative side, the nature of his dismissal was very soft. England have lots of players capable of making fancy fifties but few who can make match defining hundreds. And Denly may never get a better chance to register a maiden century. Fifties are all very well but they won’t cement a batsman’s place in the side. Just ask James Vince, another elegant right-hander, who scored 76 in his last test innings before being kicking into the presumably pretty short grass. One suspects at age 27 that Vince may get another opportunity sooner rather than later. Denly, on the other hand, is 32 and time is running out for him.
Fortunately for England, however, the other Joe saw the job through this time. It was his 16th test hundred to go along with his 41 fifties. Root hasn’t always been able to deliver three figures for his team, but on this occasion he came good. And England are sitting pretty, erm, pretty as a result.
People will argue that this game is a dead rubber, and everything was in Root’s favour, but I sense it was still an important knock for the skipper. He hasn’t had a good time of late – his stint in the Big Bash was not a success and he’s look a bit out of sorts in the Caribbean – so this was a morale boosting knock. Note to Joe: give up the T20 crap and focus on what you’re best at.
The other interesting thing about Root’s innings was that he completely ignored his own advice. Before the Antigua test he espoused the benefits of a pro-active approach at the crease: you don’t win test by being passive etc, you win by putting runs on the board. Joe must have twigged pretty quickly that he was talking cobblers as yesterday’s knock was very prudent to begin with.
The thing I loved about Root’s century was that played himself in with great care before finally expanding his repertoire of shots in the final session. One wonders whether the skipper really believed what he said before the second test or whether he just had Tom Harrison’s hand up his arse at that particular moment? This do or die attitude has not served England particularly well in red ball cricket, so it was great to see the skipper bat with common sense.
England’s lead is now 448 and we still have six wickets in hand. Nothing is going to stop us now. The pitch still offers quite a lot of assistance for the seamers when the ball is new and hard. I can’t see a Windies side missing its captain and with the series already in the bag putting up much a fight on the fourth innings.
What’s more, a few balls started to keep low as the day wore on yesterday. Mark Wood and Stuart Broad will be licking their lips.
This game is done folks.