At Bridgetown, Barbados. May 1-3, 2015. West Indies won by five wickets. Toss: England. Test debut: S. D. Hope.
Sport's capacity to send victors and vanquished on opposing trajectories had rarely felt more pointed than at the post-match presentation. For West Indies, there were waves to family and friends, and vocal support from the stands, following a win which provided the perfect riposte to incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves's pre-series assessment that they were "mediocre", and hopes of renewal for Caribbean cricket. For England, there was much contemplation of bootlaces, the only smiles were nervous ones, and a familiar feeling descended: English cricket was about to enter yet another period of introspection and blood-letting.
At least Cook had cause for some cheer, having shaken a monkey from his back: his 26th Test century arrived on the first evening, 704 days, 20 Tests and 36 innings after the 25th, against New Zealand at Headingley in May 2013. He finished the series with 268 runs at 53, and looked more secure than he had done for some time.
Yet other concerns crowded in. From a position of authority, England had frittered away a first-innings lead of 68 and, on a wearing pitch, failed to take hold of the chances West Indies offered on the third, and final, afternoon. Cook, coach Peter Moores and the other three England selectors were also turning out empty pockets, after a risky gamble to reinvent Trott as the captain's latest opening partner proved a comprehensive failure. The upshot was West Indies' first Test win over England in 12 attempts, since skittling them for 51 in Jamaica in February 2009, and only their second in 29 since winning at Edgbaston in June 2000. It also meant a share of the series, the first they hadn't lost against a side other than New Zealand, Bangladesh or Zimbabwe since drawing at home with Pakistan in May 2011.
Despite a bone-dry pitch, England chose not to go with an extra spinner, leaving Adil Rashid and James Tredwell to whirl away in the nets. But they were able to name an unchanged side only after Stokes overcame a back injury sustained in training the day before the match. West Indies made three changes: they brought in slow left-armer Permaul (their third spinner in three Tests, after Devendra Bishoo injured a finger); recalled Taylor after he had missed Grenada with a shoulder injury, and handed a debut to 21-year-old opener Shai Hope, who received his cap on his home ground from Clive Lloyd.
Cook's decision to bat looked a potentially significant advantage, yet within nine balls Trott - still preferred to Adam Lyth - had been unpicked again. It was the first time an England opener had recorded three ducks in a series of three Tests or fewer. But it was the manner of his dismissal, as much as the unwanted statistic, that hurt most. Ramdin had spoken during the build-up about Trott's perceived weakness against the short ball. And, when Gabriel banged a rising delivery at his ribs, Trott turned his head towards point and fended tamely to Permaul at square leg.
By contrast, Cook left judiciously - a mark of his returning form - though his march to a century was punctuated with good fortune: on 22 he dabbed Permaul to Blackwood at short leg, only for TV umpire Steve Davis to rule the ball had brushed the turf; on 33 he flashed an inside edge off Taylor past leg stump; and on 40 a top-edge off Permaul fell to safety.
His hundred arrived with a flick off his legs off Gabriel. It had taken 259 balls and prompted, by his standards, an effusive celebration - helmet off and arms aloft, before embracing his partner, Buttler. His luck ran out, however, in the last over of the day, when he under-edged one of Samuels's largely unthreatening off-breaks. It left West Indies buoyant. But, with the exception of Cook and Ali, who contributed a careful half-century in a fifth-wicket stand of 98 with his captain, England's batsmen had played indifferently.
A score of 240 for seven was a poor return after winning the toss, yet the events of day two were to make it look like a small fortune. England added just 17 runs for the final three wickets next morning, as Buttler failed to shepherd the tail. That early rush presaged some car-crash cricket: 18 wickets fell in all, the most in a day's cricket in the 231 Tests played in the West Indies. By the close, England had staggered to 39 for five, a precarious lead of 107. It meant their contribution to the day had been 56 runs for eight wickets. Such carelessness would cost them a series victory.
West Indies, bowled out in between for 189 in less than 50 overs, were thankful for a stubborn effort from Blackwood, who added 85 to his unbeaten century in Antigua. Without him, they would have been dead and buried: no one else passed 25. Anderson was once again the architect of their demise, producing two irresistible spells, one with the new ball (6-4-4-3) and one with the old, immediately after tea (3.4-0-29-3), to leave with him six for 42, the 17th five-for of his career, and 396 Test wickets. His ability to shoulder responsibility when nothing was happening for anyone else, allied with Jordan's hands - he took two more blinders at slip off the spinners - put England back in control. Yet, before stumps, West Indies had wrestled them back to the canvas.
Trott's second failure in the match, pinned by Taylor in the fifth over, prompted a brief discussion with his captain about a possible review. As if symbolically, Cook suggested his time was up. Trott walked off to a standing ovation from the travelling support - a carriage clock of sorts - as he departed with his familiar rolling gait. Two days later, he announced his retirement from international cricket. Cook followed in the next over, nicking to slip and, as in the first innings, Bell's liberal application of sun cream proved a waste of effort: nailed lbw by Taylor, he registered his first pair in Tests since the 2005 Ashes finale at The Oval. As England ground to a halt, Root edged Holder to first slip, before Ali dragged Permaul on to his stumps. In 15 overs of sheer timidity, they had lost five for 28 - and the initiative.
It was an understandably grumpy Anderson who suggested that, from the position England had been in, a lead of 400 would have been acceptable; he added that 200 might prove tricky to chase. Next morning, England fell short even of those expectations, despite thirties from Stokes and Buttler, who this time cajoled 25 out of the last wicket from Anderson. West Indies needed 192, and had history on their side: they had never been bowled out chasing a target of less than 214. For 35 overs, it was nip and tuck. Aggressive at first, West Indies became bogged down at 70 for three. More aggression preceded the loss of Chanderpaul, who finished the Test - which turned out to be his last - with a duck, and only 45 short of Brian Lara's record 11,912 runs for West Indies. That left them wondering whether to stick or twist, but England helped make up their minds. At 87 for four, Blackwood - unable to release the handbrake - skipped down the wicket, attempted to heave Root over long-on, and misjudged the line. Unfortunately for England, so did Buttler, who fluffed the gather to his left - and the stumping. It proved the turning point, as Blackwood, on four at the time, and Bravo steadily rebuilt. Cook tried all his combinations, to no avail.
With the match threatening to go into a fourth day, a message arrived from the dressingroom under the pretext of a fresh pair of gloves. The batsmen immediately accelerated, and the last 50 came off 34 balls, as Ali - who had let the pressure of being England's only spinner get to him, and strove too hard for wickets - absorbed the bulk of the bruising. Bravo fell with four still needed, but Blackwood hit the winning runs to spark celebrations,
Man of the Match: J. Blackwood.