England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord's, 4th day May 20, 2012

England in for test of nerve and character

Fourth-highest chase at Lord's the target for a line-up that has poor previous experience of small chases

Sometimes it is a delight to be proved wrong. Before this series, many of us had assumed that it would require a minor miracle for West Indies to win. Yes, their recent performances had shown signs of promise. Yes, cricket is a gloriously unpredictable game. And yes, England endured a chastening winter. But West Indies have not won an overseas series, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe aside, since 1995. They are missing some of their top players. They have won only eight out of their last 80 Tests, while England, striving to retain their No.1 ranking, have an excellent record in their own conditions. It was hard to be wildly optimistic.

But West Indies have played some fine cricket. They are not the finished article - few teams ever attain that - but, after some truly miserable years, they have given their supporters renewed reason for pride, for joy and for hope. Few, be they from Bridgetown, Brisbane or Birmingham, will resent that. If this proves to be another step on West Indies' journey back towards the top of world cricket, then the game will be all the richer for it.

Let us not get ahead of ourselves. This match is not over. The pitch remains flat and, with Graeme Swann now coming in at No.11, England's batting line-up is deep. West Indies have flattered to deceive a few times of late and they may yet rue the absence of a frontline spinner. But whatever happens on the final day - and the fact that either side could still win is a joy in itself - West Indies have shown they are progressing. On a ground on which England have won five of their last six Tests (and drawn the other), the tourists have proved they are a force with which to be reckoned.

If West Indies do go on to win - and whatever happens, they should take encouragement from this performance - it will prove a cruel result for Stuart Broad. After claiming seven wickets in the first innings, Broad claimed four more in the second to claim his first 10-wicket match. He may yet have a role to play in winning this Test with the bat, but there is little more he could have done to win it with the ball.

It is one of the enduring ironies of a team game that individual excellence is often celebrated more than team success. In years to come when tour parties are shown around Lord's, they will see the honours board and conclude that Broad's performance must have been head and shoulders above that of his colleagues.

While England have come a long way since the debacle of Jamaica in 2009 it is worth noting that five of England's top seven here also played in that game

It is not entirely true. Broad, who became the first England bowler to claim ten wickets in a match here since Ian Botham in 1978, certainly bowled well. But he did not bowl so much better than James Anderson. Not eight wickets in the match better, anyway. Anderson beat the bat as often as anyone and, by conceding fewer than two an over, maintained pressure throughout. Tim Bresnan, too, who conceded 100 for the first time in his Test career, bowled somewhat better than his figures suggested, while Swann claimed the two key wickets - Darren Bravo and Shivnarine Chanderpaul - on a pitch offering him little. The truth is that England bowled as a unit and, on this occasion, Broad reaped the rewards.

It is, however, worth reflecting on Broad's progress over the last ten months or so. Before July 2011, Broad possessed a modest Test bowling record, with 107 wickets at an average of 36.25. Since then, he has claimed 51 wickets at 17.27. He is finally developing into the bowler his talent always suggested he could be. He is still only 25, too.

The improvement is not coincidental. Broad has learned his trade and matured. Where once he would respond to adversity with a barrage of short balls and an outburst of temper, he has learned that it is smarter to maintain a fuller length and continue probing around the top of off stump. He has always been able to move the ball in the air and off the pitch; he has always gained bounce. It is just that he now knows how to use those weapons. His best delivery is probably no better than it ever has been. It is just that he bowls it more often with fewer poor deliveries in between. He is still some way from becoming the Glenn McGrath style bowler to which he aspires but he is heading in the right direction. Indeed, McGrath's bowling average on his 26th birthday - 27.01 - is perhaps closer to Broad's - 30.12 - than might be expected. The best could still be ahead of him.

The fourth day offered a reminder of how Test cricket used to be. With the run rate struggling to climb over two-and-a-half an over and the England attack struggling to gain the movement we have come to expect from them, they were instead obliged to rely on the timeless virtues of discipline, control and patience.

Perhaps England could have bowled just a little straighter to Chanderpaul; perhaps they could have bowled just a little fuller to Marlon Samuels, but these are carping criticisms. They bowled well on a pitch offering little assistance. West Indies just batted admirably.

This was another impressive performance from the tourists. While Chanderpaul's defiance was no surprise - what else would you expect from him? - the contributions of Samuels, Denesh Ramdin and Darren Sammy were less anticipated. They may yet come to rue the run-outs they suffered in both innings and the ninth-wicket stand between Swann and Ian Bell, but the margins between these sides are not nearly as large as the Test rankings might suggest.

The pressure is now on England's shoulders. An England side that was bowled out for 72 when chasing 145 less than four months ago. The pitch at Lord's tends to remain true but, if England win, it will be the fourth largest run chase in a Test at Lord's. And, while England have come a long way since the debacle of Jamaica in 2009 when they were bowled out for 51, it is worth noting that five of England's top seven here also played in that game. Their nerve and their character will be tested on day five.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments