|First Test, day five, Ageas Bowl|
|England 204 (Holder 6-42) & 313 (Crawley 76, Gabriel 5-75)|
|West Indies 318 (Brathwaite 65) & 200-6 (Blackwood 95)|
|West Indies won by four wickets|
England lost a gripping first Test to West Indies, who were helped to a memorable four-wicket victory by Jermaine Blackwood’s magnificent 95.
Chasing 200 on the final day in Southampton, the tourists were reduced to 27-3 and lost opener John Campbell retired hurt, mainly to a fired-up Jofra Archer.
But the nerveless Blackwood calmly combined with Roston Chase for a stand of 63, then added 68 with Shane Dowrich.
England had chances to dismiss Blackwood. Ben Stokes failed to get a hand on a tough opportunity at slip off Dom Bess, gully Rory Burns and wicketkeeper Jos Buttler both dropped catches off Stokes, and Zak Crawley could not gather the ball in the covers when Blackwood and Chase got in a mix-up running a single.
Stand-in captain Stokes threatened to inspire England yet again first by removing Dowrich, then Blackwood when only 11 were needed.
But a limping Campbell returned to join captain Jason Holder and scamper the winning run.
It means West Indies take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series, while Stokes is condemned to defeat in his first match as skipper.
Joe Root will return to lead England when the second behind-closed-doors Test begins at Old Trafford on Thursday.
If the tourists avoid defeat there, they will retain the Wisden Trophy they earned with a series victory in the Caribbean 18 months ago.
Bio-bubble serves up a classic
This fluctuating contest was a wonderful start to an international summer that for so long was threatened by the coronavirus pandemic.
The only thing missing was a crowd. How might England have benefitted from home support as they pushed for victory in the still sunshine of a glorious Sunday afternoon.
That is to take nothing away from the performance of West Indies, who once again impressed with their attitude, application and determination.
In the first part of this match, the tourists were quicker than England to adapt to the conditions, atmosphere and lack of preparation.
For England, debate will surround the decision to omit Stuart Broad in favour of the extra pace of Archer and Mark Wood, but it was Archer’s performance that kept them in the hunt on the final day.
In reality, they paid the price for being bowled out for only 204 in their first innings.
Blackwood does it again
Blackwood, one of the architects of West Indies’ famous win at Headingley in 2017, regularly raises his game against England.
Usually a dasher, he was forced to rein in his attacking instincts when he joined Chase with his side on the verge of capitulating.
Gradually they rebuilt, Chase tipping singles and Blackwood occasionally loosening the shackles to slash through the off side.
All of the chances came in the period after lunch, while West Indies also endured another lightning Archer spell in which Chase fell to a brutal bouncer.
Blackwood grew in stature, crashing some rasping drives, and was supported by the doughty Dowrich, who did not wilt in the face of a pace barrage.
Dowrich’s edge behind when 36 were still required raised England’s hopes, but they barely celebrated when Blackwood hammered to James Anderson at mid-off.
England ponder what might have been
For all the talk of the make-up of their attack, England would probably have won this match had they scored more runs in the first innings, not lost 5-30 on the fourth evening and taken their chances on the final day.
Lacklustre earlier in the match, Archer was superb, firstly by lifting England from their overnight 284-8 to 313, then with some electric fast bowling.
Campbell had already hobbled off after blow on the toe by the time Kraigg Brathwaite and Shamarh Brooks were bowled by nip-backers. Wood did the same to Shai Hope.
However, Anderson failed to make an impact, while Bess did not provide the threat England will have wanted from their off-spinner on a final-day pitch.
Archer’s afternoon burst was also ferocious. As well as the wicket of Chase, Dowrich needed a review to survive being given out caught off his elbow from yet another vicious short ball.
Stokes, possibly hampered by a toe injury, barely bowled himself before his belated introduction resulted in the double strike.
And it was fitting that Holder, the personification of West Indies’ recent revival, was at the crease when victory was sealed, taking the spoils over opposite number and fellow all-rounder Stokes.
‘The best team won, without any question’
Former England captain Michael Vaughan on BBC Test Match Special: “It was a great Test and a great week in the circumstances. The best team won, without any question.”
Former England captain Alastair Cook: “All the talk about the toss and Broad will be the main headline, but the batters have to take a bit of that blame. Ultimately they didn’t bat well in the first innings. It wasn’t enough on that wicket.
“Blackwood played brilliantly. He didn’t take any of the bait England offered. He definitely won the game for West Indies. That innings was the difference.”
West Indies limited-overs all-rounder Carlos Brathwaite: “It was a polished, professional Test unit rather than a bunch of guys put together to play Test cricket for West Indies.
“Blackwood batted eloquently, classy, calmly, carefree – adjectives you don’t normally use with him.”