Matches (17)
ENG v WI (1)
MLC (2)
Asia Cup (2)
ENG v SL (U19) (1)
LPL (2)
TNPL (1)
T20 Blast (8)
Match Analysis

Tenth-wicket tenacity makes a mockery of England's familiar failings

Mahmood and Leach dig deep for the cause as they inadvertently troll their own team-mates

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
24-Mar-2022
Saqib Mahmood produced unexpected resistance from No. 11, West Indies vs England, 3rd Test, Grenada, 1st day, March 24, 2022

Saqib Mahmood produced unexpected resistance from No. 11  •  Getty Images

At the tail-end of a winter that has said plenty about England's shortcomings in the arena of Test match batting, this almost comically underscored the point. Jack Leach has previous when it comes to oddball batting heroics, but the sight of the bespectacled spinner coming together with No. 11 Saqib Mahmood to produce by far the highest partnership of the innings told you everything you needed to know about what had gone before.
By the end, Mahmood almost seemed to be trolling his more-credentialled team-mates, batting for longer than he had ever previously done in a first-class match, and eventually falling one short of a maiden fifty in any form of the game. On the plus side, England's red-ball reset has seemingly turned Mahmood into a Test allrounder with a batting average of 49 and bowling average of 19.75 - on the minus, their top six scraped together one run fewer than Mahmood managed on his own.
"If you if you listen to me in the dressing room, I always say that, even before this," Mahmood said with a smile when asked at the close by BT Sport if he would now be claiming allrounder status. "But no, obviously I'll take today. One of the boys has already said it's downhill from here. When I went out there I saw a few of the boys in their whites already so it kind of spurred me on a little bit to make sure I was out there for a while."
From a parlous position at 114 for 9, England would clearly have grabbed at a final tally above 200, and Mahmood preferred to focus on the advantage that had been wrested back after the team's highest tenth-wicket stand since Joe Root and James Anderson added 198 against India on a Trent Bridge featherbed eight years ago.
"I think it tells you a little bit about the wicket when both sides want to bowl on it, and credit to West Indies I thought they bowled exceptionally well," he said. "Those first couple of sessions, they didn't give us a great deal to hit, they were very disciplined and the wicket obviously assisted them as well. But we have a session-by-session mantra in our dressing room and although losing those first couple of sessions, it was nice to bounce back at the end of the day and take that last session as a win.
"You can obviously see some of the balls which they got out to, you almost do well not to nick balls like that. Ben Foakes' ball for example, swing away and nip back, that's a bowler's dream. So you could see there was a lot in the wicket early doors and credit to West Indies."
It is three-and-a-half months since Root opted to bat first in Brisbane, only to see Rory Burns bowled around his legs by Mitchell Starc's first ball of the Ashes. England limped to 147 all on that occasion, the die cast on their fate in Australia, but it looked for a long stretch of day one in Grenada as if they would struggle to get near even that mark, as Root's much-changed side experienced a very familiar sinking feeling.
To be fair, England had been inserted at the National Stadium in St George's, with a greenish surface appearing like an oasis in the desert for the bowlers on both sides. "It's another opportunity for us to take another step forward as a side," Root said at the toss, having seen his team produce successive scores of 311, 349 for 6 declared and 507 for 9 declared in Antigua and Barbados. But while the pitches for the first two Tests had been widely slated for offering little to batters or bowlers, proof that this was not another pudding came swiftly.
With the ball nibbling around laterally and occasionally jumping through or shooting low, the only surprise was that it took 12.2 overs for the first West Indies breakthrough. Kyle Mayers began the mayhem with a spell of 5-5-0-2, Root the big wicket as he felt for one that left him. Amid preparations for the county season back home, the wags on Twitter reached for the obvious gag: perhaps England should be asking for more green seamers in the Championship to help their batters adapt.
From 46 for 3 at lunch, the top-order wobble became a full-scale meltdown in the face of a juiced-up West Indies attack finally enjoying their moment. Alex Lees again showed his staying power with a dogged 31 off 97 but he was dislodged during the second-session rout, as England slipped to 67 for 7 and then nine-down shortly after tea - at which point Mahmood walked out for his first Test knock (having not been required in either innings on debut in Barbados).
For a while, he and Leach were content to attempt to do what most of the top order had failed to, getting into line and keeping the ball out while picking off runs here and there. Leach steered Holder adroitly through backward point for four, and then produced something a little more impudent with a straight drive that didn't require any running. At drinks, the pair had eked out 32 precious runs in just over 16 overs of batting.
West Indies doubtless consoled themselves with the thought that the pitch was flattening out, but things continued to get weirder and their efforts began to fray. Mahmood was dropped in the covers, a tough chance for John Campbell leaping to his right; next ball, he popped Mayers over the rope at long-on for the first six of his first-class career.
The arrival of the second new ball couldn't change the mood either, Mahmood unfurling a particularly regal cover drive off Alzarri Joseph to bring up the England 200 as the light began to fade. However, with a Test fifty in sight, Mahmood's cool finally evaporated as he dragged a Jermaine Blackwood long hop on to his stumps.
"It's just basics really, I saw long-on go back and almost had tunnel vision of trying to get one down there," he said. "But yeah, look, obviously 49 - more important was that 90-run partnership between me and Leachy, I think it's put us in a fairly decent position after the first couple of sessions we had today.
"Once we saw off the burst from Alzarri and Seales it was quite fun to bat out there. It was hard work scoring runs when the slower bowlers came on but we stuck at it pretty well and cashed in in that period before the new ball."
Mahmood pinpointed the need for England to "hold length" when it came to their chance to bowl on day two, suggesting the old ball had become easier to face, rather than the pitch losing its nip. "They still got lateral movement with that second new ball," he said. "So that first session tomorrow for us will be crucial."

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick