Tour review

England vs West Indies, 2020

Simon Wilde

Test matches (3): England 2 (80pts), West Indies 1 (40pts)

West Indies failed in their attempt to win a first Test series in England since 1988, but they gave it a decent shot. And, by agreeing to be the first touring side to put themselves through the ordeal of biosecure cricket, they earned the lasting gratitude of the global game. After four months in the desert, here was the first oasis.

Jason Holder and his team were thankful for the opportunity to play for the first time since early March in Sri Lanka, though seven weeks inside Old Trafford and the Rose Bowl, both equipped with hotels, was not easy. Yet they endured their trial with good grace. All but ten days were spent in Manchester, where a 25-man squad began with two weeks in quarantine, before playing a pair of internal warm-up matches. Then, after a brief sojourn south for the First Test, they returned north for the Second and Third.

"It has been challenging," Holder said at the end. "Mentally, some of the guys are worn out. We had a change of environment at Southampton, which we really enjoyed, but then we had to come back here to see the same people, the same place, the same rooms." It hardly helped that Manchester's weather was at its most fickle, wiping three full days from the schedule: the first day of their second warm-up match, and one in each of the Tests. That took to 31 the days of Test cricket washed out at Old Trafford, cementing its huge lead at the top of the global rain-chart.

Stuart Broad, England's Player of the Series, saluted the West Indians: "They've been the heroes of this summer." When Holder suggested England repay the favour with a tour of the Caribbean before the end of the year, he was being optimistic, but the sentiment was understandable. Without West Indies' willingness to fly to a country beset by the coronavirus, the ECB's losses - already huge - would have spiralled out of control.

They had been due to arrive in mid-May, take on England Lions and Worcestershire, then play a three-Test series, starting on June 4, at The Oval, Edgbaston and Lord's. But their arrival was put back to June 9, by which time some professional sport was allowed behind closed doors, and the Tests to July 8.

In the absence of a sponsor, the series was branded #raisethebat in recognition of key workers during the pandemic; on the first morning, England's players trained in shirts bearing some of the workers' names. Cricket West Indies were kept closely informed about the plans drawn up by the ECB in consultation with the government, and expressed few reservations. A key moment was a virtual presentation on May 1 to the managements of both teams, as well as Holder and Joe Root, about how the matches would operate.

The ECB did all they could to sugar the pill, paying for chartered flights that brought the West Indies players together in Antigua, then on to Manchester; laying on well-equipped games rooms at the two venues; and even providing a short-term loan of £2.4m after CWI were hit by a delay in emergency funding from the ICC. Players on both sides were given the choice to opt out if they had concerns; a week before departure, batsmen Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer, and fast bowler Keemo Paul, did just that. All three had faced England in the Caribbean in early 2019, and the absence of Bravo and Hetmyer significantly reduced the strength of the batting.

Meanwhile, head coach Phil Simmons left the bubble during the warm-up phase to attend a funeral, then isolated for five days before rejoining his players. No England player withdrew, but Root's wife, Carrie, gave birth to their second child shortly before the First Test; having left the bubble in Southampton to be with her, he had insufficient time to self-isolate, and missed the match, allowing Ben Stokes to become England's 81st Test captain.

More sensationally, the day after doing more than anyone with the ball to try (unsuccessfully) to prevent England from losing the opening Test for the fifth series in a row, Jofra Archer took a detour - en route from Southampton to Manchester - to his home in Hove, breaking protocols. He came into contact with only one person, who subsequently tested negative for Covid-19. But Ashley Giles, managing director of England cricket, was unequivocal: "This could have been a disaster. The ripple effect… through the whole summer could have cost us tens of millions of pounds."

Archer spent almost all the Second Test in his hotel room; he was fined the equivalent of a match fee, and handed a written warning. He then let off steam about unfair treatment from mainstream and social media in his Daily Mail column two days before the Third. "Some of the abuse I have taken over the past few days on Instagram has been racist, and I have decided that enough is enough… I will not allow anything to pass, so I have forwarded on my complaints to the ECB."

In an early version of the column which appeared in the paper's Irish edition, Archer even said he was considering taking a break from cricket, but he played in the final Test. Giles confirmed that details of the abuse had been passed to the police - for the second time in Archer's short international career, following an incident in New Zealand in November 2019.

The cricket itself was more exciting and memorable than anyone could have dared hope, given the eerie silence in which it was played. The fate of the Wisden Trophy - in its final outing before being replaced by the Richards-Botham Trophy - hung in the balance until the end.

For the best part of nine days, West Indian prospects of retaining it had been strong; then came a turnaround on the penultimate evening of the Second Test, when they had been only four down in their first innings, seemingly assured of safety. Broad picked up three wickets in 14 deliveries with the second new ball, and England were unstoppable.

No one could say the players were trying any less for the absence of spectators. When the series had begun, the focus was on Holder and Stokes as rival all-rounders - and, in the first match, as captains. Simmons suggested it held the key to the outcome, and for two Tests it appeared he would be right.

In the First, a career-best six for 42 from Holder meant Stokes's bold decision to bat in bowler-friendly conditions backfired, as England were dismissed for 204; despite his own runs and wickets, it was a position from which they never quite recovered. But he responded with an astonishing performance in Manchester, batting painstakingly for eight hours for 176 to help post a match-shaping 469 for nine, then smashing 78 not out off 57 balls to buy time to dismiss West Indies in their second innings. These efforts might have drained lesser men, but he also bowled two aggressive 11-over spells with the old ball to suck the life out of his opponents.

Neither man had much to give by the decider, which Stokes played purely as a batsman after his efforts in the previous game left him carrying a thigh strain (he still finished the series averaging 90 with the bat, and 16 with the ball, to Holder's 22 and 30). Holder again chose to bowl, and England again began with what proved the biggest total of the match.

The show was stolen by Broad, a man on a mission ever since his axing from the First Test. On the third morning of that game, he had voiced his fury during an interview in Sky's new player zone. "I felt like it was my shirt," he said. "When I get that opportunity again, you can bet I'll be on the money." Sure enough, he took six wickets at crucial moments during the Second Test, and in the decider struck 62 off 45 balls, before claiming match figures of ten for 67, benefiting from the repeated refusal of the West Indian batsmen to get on to the front foot. His ninth wicket was also his 500th in Tests. His father, Chris, witnessed the milestone: he was the match referee because Covid-19 restrictions had ruled out overseas officials, and he was the sole Englishman on the ICC's elite panel.

It was a series of slow and low scoring, with only two centuries, by Stokes and Dom Sibley, both in the Second Test. Stokes's hundred was the slowest of his ten in Tests, and Sibley's the longest recorded by minutes (465) in England. This suited the patient, platform-laying approach Root wanted to cultivate. The dropping of Joe Denly after one game, following a lengthy but unsatisfactory run at the top of the order, aided the process: in the Third Test, England managed century stands for the first two wickets in the same innings for the first time since Abu Dhabi in 2015-16.

Meanwhile, no West Indian scored a century during a series in England for the first time since their inaugural Test tour, in 1928. Kraigg Brathwaite, Jermaine Blackwood and Shamarh Brooks all played notably for half-centuries, but Shai Hope was a grave disappointment after his Headingley heroics of 2017 and, like opener John Campbell, averaged under 20. Blackwood played courageously for 95 on the final day at Southampton to give West Indies their first lead in England for 20 years, but he was granted several let-offs - most critically on 20, when Jos Buttler spilled a leg-side chance. Buttler's struggles as batsman-keeper generated debate, though he struck 67 in the first innings of the final match.

It was also a series dominated by fast bowlers. England found themselves in the unusual position of having six specialists to choose from, and started - mistakenly, in hindsight - by teaming up Archer and Mark Wood for the first time in Tests, possibly the fastest pairing in their history. Archer topped 90mph, and bowled an incisive opening spell on the last day, and Wood hit 94.5, but they were generally underwhelming. Wood did not play another Test all summer.

The West Indies pacemen began the better, and the persevering Shannon Gabriel won the match award in the First, with nine wickets. Despite the staying power of Kemar Roach, who passed 200 Test wickets in the Third, they lacked England's depth, and stuck with the same line-up for the next game. By the Third, Gabriel was struggling to stay on the field.

In contrast, Broad and Chris Woakes, who also sat out the opener, grew stronger, taking 27 of the last 36 West Indies wickets, and keeping them below 200 in their final three innings. On this most extraordinary of assignments, Holder and his players deserved special praise for their response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which was at its height when they arrived. Both sides agreed to have a BLM logo on their shirt collars, and it also became clear England would join West Indies in taking a knee at the start of the series. There were some powerful and moving words from Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent on Sky. But this was West Indies' moment: players and backroom staff, down on one knee, right fists sporting black gloves raised to the sky.

© John Wisden & Co