Match reports

England v West Indies

Wisden's review of the first Test, England v West Indies

Jonathan Liew
At Birmingham, August 17-19 (day/night). England won by an innings and 209 runs. Toss: England. Test debuts: M. D. Stoneman; K. A. Hope.
A little light remained in the Birmingham sky as the last wicket fell, bringing England's first day/night Test to a close. For West Indies, darkness had long since fallen. Bowled out twice in 92.4 overs, losing 19 wickets in a day, suffering their sixth-heaviest defeat: yes, it had been a historic occasion for them too, but not in the manner intended.
As Cook gathered the match award for his superlative 243, as interviews and formalities were dealt with, the Edgbaston crowd shuffled home - their bellies full of drink, their eyes full of wickets, but their souls curiously unsated. It was difficult to know how exactly to classify what had just happened. Was it elite international sport, or ritual sacrifice? A Technicolor window into cricket's future, or a marketing exercise dressed up as innovation?
It was probably a mixture of all four. After three unnerving days in the West Midlands, the only conclusion that could be drawn with any certainty was that it was too early to draw conclusions. The more outlandish warnings about the pink Dukes - that it would swerve alarmingly at twilight and soften into futility, that unsighted fielders would be left rooted to the spot as it sailed past them - came to nothing. So did the more ambitious claims made on behalf of day/night Test cricket: that it would breathe instant life into the format, transforming the demographics of the Test match audience for ever.
By and large, it was the same crowd you would expect at any Edgbaston Test - this was its 50th. But a 2pm start gave an additional three hours of lubrication, which contributed to a marginally livelier atmosphere than normal. Indeed, as the more boisterous elements broke into their evening serenades of "Don't Take Me Home" and "Ali, Ali Cook", the most striking parallel was not with Twenty20 or even football, but with darts: a well-oiled, well-voiced crowd paying only the most cursory attention to the game unfolding before them. More regrettably, the stands steadily thinned out after 8pm, as punters hunted down last trains, dinner reservations or simply somewhere warmer. It was hardly the most ringing endorsement of the new schedule.
Evening-only tickets, or a Wimbledon-style resale system, must be options for future games. Did it produce better cricket? Again, hard to say. It certainly produced more visually arresting cricket. As the floodlights blinked into life, and dusk descended in the day's final hour, we were treated to a stunning vista of pink ball on green turf against a sunset of brilliant ochre. Healthy ticket sales - three days of near-sellouts - were at least partly attributable to giddy novelty, with Birmingham city centre plastered in chintzy neon adverts days in advance. But the first and last measure of any cricketing innovation is - or should be - whether it contributes to an even contest between bat and ball. And on this point, all best-laid plans were confounded, as West Indies' attempt to render the contest remotely even failed on every conceivable level. It had been suggested that the unfamiliarity of the format might balance things out.
Within a few hours, that was exposed as a cruel fiction. Cook produced an innings of metronomic mettle, if one fed by a buffet of errant bowling, the West Indians nourishing his cut and leg glance as if they had never seen him play. Unlike during his 294 against India here in 2011, he accelerated as his innings progressed, while still treating each ball on its (limited) merits. Chase admitted afterwards that he gave up on getting him out.
But the star of the first day was Root, who overtook Cook an hour after lunch - or was it tea? - and bullied his way to an assertive hundred, his 13th in Tests. Early movement had accounted for the debutant Stoneman, bowled by one of the deliveries of the summer from Roach, moving the ball away from middle stump to kiss the top of off. Cummins trapped Westley, playing round his front pad once more. But as the pink ball weathered, Root gathered pace, reaching 50 for the 11th Test in succession, breaking John Edrich's England record, and extending his stand with Cook to 248, a record third-wicket partnership on the ground. Cook, who registered his 31st Test century, overhauled Graham Gooch (5,917) to become the leading Test run-scorer in the UK, and David Gower (767) to claim the Edgbaston equivalent.
Root was bowled through the gate by Roach for 136 as night fell, and replaced by Malan, who was never dominant but mainly competent. He had opened up his stance since his debut two Tests earlier and, after being dropped at slip on two, was rewarded with a dependable supply of leg-side nonsense. This was the defining theme of the innings: too often, five tight deliveries were followed by a pressure-reliever. The fielding was little better than club standard; Cook's fourth double-hundred next day arrived as a result of an egregious misfield by Kyle Hope at third man.
West Indian ineptitude stretched to captaincy and selection. With 80 overs bowled on the first evening, the arrival of the second new ball under lights was awaited with eagerness. Instead, Holder withdrew Roach from the attack, and a seething Stuart Law relayed a message via the twelfth man. Meanwhile, the slow bowlers sent down 32.2 overs in total, occasionally extracting handy turn, which suggested the omission of leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo was a mistake.
England's lower-middle order crumpled like a napkin on the second day. Cook's dismissal not long before tea - or was it dinner? - brought the declaration. West Indies were shaken from their catatonia, and forced to knuckle down to the task in hand, a followon target of 315. As it happened, they did not make that many in two innings. Rain truncated the second day by 26 overs, with Powell and Kyle Hope patiently overcoming the early loss of Brathwaite. But both fell within two overs next morning - Hope fending to gully, Powell run out chancing an absurd single to Anderson. When Chase played on for a duck, West Indies had gathered a downward momentum they would never arrest. Blackwood tried. There was an element of caprice to his unbeaten 79 off 76 balls, but at least he had a plan, cuffing Ali and Broad for clean sixes over long-on, while his teammates succumbed to a procession of half-strides and half-strokes. Yet when he finally ran out of partners - or rather, ran out his final partner, Cummins, as he tried to keep the strike - Root had little hesitation in enforcing the follow-on, the first time in an Edgbaston Test since 1979.
West Indies needed 346 to make England bat again, and to survive 65 overs to give fourth-day ticket holders something to watch. But not even these mini-battles ever looked like being won. Root rotated his four seamers like a T20 captain, introducing them all in the first ten overs, and refusing to let the batsmen settle. Two early wickets were his reward. After a short period of consolidation, a few turbulent overs from Stokes and Roland-Jones appeared to convince Brathwaite to counter-attack. He collared Ali, but on the stroke of tea took one liberty too many, shuffling across and falling lbw on review.
Broad, sensing there was fun to be had, stormed back with a terrific spell under lights. Once Blackwood had been stumped off Ali, Broad removed Chase and Holder with successive deliveries to draw level with Ian Botham on 383 Test wickets. A few overs later, with his sister and father watching from the stands, he bowled Dowrich off the inside edge. Roland-Jones claimed the final wicket shortly before 9pm, to put the seal on one of the weakest West Indies performances in recent history.
How did it compare with their five heavier defeats? In four of them (The Oval in 1957, Headingley 2007, Centurion 2014-15, Hobart 2015-16), they were a man short in both innings. At Brisbane in 1930-31, they could plead inexperience - it was only their third Test series - and Bradman at his peak. No such excuses were available this time. "Every player has to look in the mirror and see where they can improve," Holder said. And given what was to follow, it was possible to forget just how abject this was. Perhaps, in retrospect, it was a form of shock therapy, shoving West Indies' backs against the wall and forcing them to fight. Sometimes the darkest hour comes just before the dawn.
Man of the Match: A. N. Cook