Match Analysis

Kraigg Brathwaite's bat does the talking as West Indies take aim at England's other guys

West Indies batters produce fire and fight to capitalise on absence of Anderson and Broad

Cameron Ponsonby
Kraigg Brathwaite scored the quickest half-century of his Test career  •  Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Kraigg Brathwaite scored the quickest half-century of his Test career  •  Gareth Copley/Getty Images

When Kraigg Brathwaite bats, he does so for a long time and not for a good time. Normally.
But on day two in Antigua, he broke character to score a brisk 55 off 70 balls and made clear the West Indies strategy when faced with an England opening attack absent of either James Anderson or Stuart Broad. Whack it.
Ahead of the series, both Brathwaite and West Indies head coach Phil Simmons had refused to be drawn on whether they considered it an advantage that neither Broad nor Anderson were lining up against them. That to do so would be "complacent". We're focusing on us, not them etc.
But there is a difference between saying and doing. Because West Indies came with a plan. Faced with two opening bowlers burdened with the unknown pressure of leading the attack for the first time in Chris Woakes, and opening the bowling in Tests for the first time in Craig Overton, they put their foot down.
"It was pretty much just playing as it came," Brathwaite said at the close, maintaining the party line. "I obviously got into some good positions and it paid off and we got some early runs, but I wouldn't say it was a change. It's a good pitch."
"Some of the guys aren't as experienced as Anderson and stuff but I thought they were decent and we've just got to buckle down and fight. Do not underestimate, that's the key for us."
The first ten overs brought 45 runs and CricViz stats aplenty. Only twice in the last two years have England conceded more. Woakes' first 20 balls brought 27 runs, the most he'd ever conceded by that stage in an innings (admittedly a small sample size). The 50 arrived in the 11th over, the fourth fastest during Joe Root's captaincy. It was, by whichever metric you choose, right up among least-threatening new-ball spells England had bowled in the last decade. It was not good.
But it would be unfair to say that England's failings were all of their own doing. Missteps still need to be capitalised on and neither Brathwaite nor his opening partner John Campbell missed a beat in doing so. Brathwaite drove and Campbell slashed, and just when England thought they'd put a lid on proceedings as Jack Leach tied together a maiden or two, Brathwaite launched him for six.
You can have all the strategies, spreadsheets, nutritionists and data scientists you want, but when it comes down to it, nothing beats hitting the ball really far as your Plan A.
Brathwaite is a man riding high on batting adrenaline. For all the talk of how out-of-character this innings was in terms of his career, it wasn't in terms of his month. In the lead up to this series, Brathwaite scored a career-best 276 for Barbados against Jamaica, an innings which came at a strike-rate of 67.81.
It is a stark change for a man who has often suffered from the same criticism levelled at players such as Dom Sibley and Cheteshwar Pujara, that his slow batting adversely affects his team by putting undue pressure on the batter at the other end. But here, Brathwaite went to a run-a-ball 20, 30 and 40 before bringing up his fastest Test half-century off 62 balls.
If Brathwaite set the tone with his fire, his team followed suit with their fight. A collapse from 83 for 0 to 127 for 4 threatened to derail the excellent start West Indies had made, and with the ball beginning to reverse-swing, had either Nkrumah Bonner or former captain Jason Holder fallen and exposed a fragile tail, the day could've comfortably belonged to England. As it happened, Bonner and Holder shared a crucial, unbroken 75-run partnership to steer West Indies to 202 for 4 at the close with the game evenly poised.
"Holder and Bonner put on a really good partnership," Brathwaite said. "The England bowlers were in a good spell and you saw the maturity fighting through, especially a period of eight overs where the ball was doing a bit. He's [Holder] leading from the front and we just have to follow."

Cameron Ponsonby is a freelance cricket writer in London. @cameronponsonby