Afternoon everyone and welcome to the final act of a curious drama. He’s almost certainly heading for a draw, and yet, for the most part, he’s been far from boring.
On a one-pitch pudding, both teams managed to crumble in their opening run before staging a replay. The West Indies rearguard was painfully slow, though impressive in terms of mental toughness. Their stubbornness nearly snuffed out the game, only for it to come alive again in the unlikely hands of England’s top order, so often a basket case themselves.
A 217-1 score would normally be a big yawn, but, for Joe Root, this could just be the fresh start he’s been desperately seeking. As nearly all of this racing was done by Root himself and Zak Crawley, it was a treat to watch – a welcome departure from the laborious passivity of the Silverwood era.
Like Jonny Bairstow, and unlike Nkrumah Bonner, Root and Crawley were good enough to step up a gear. After tea, they kind of got by at half past five: doing that at Viv is like going ten over at most testing grounds. Getting the game going, getting things done, putting the pressure back on the bowlers: if only Shane Warne had still been with us, he would have loved it.
According to CricViz, there is now a 19% chance of getting a result (England 18, West Indies 1). How would that happen, exactly? England should keep pushing and then be brave with a statement, using an extended morning to set a target of around 270 in two sessions. Jack Leach, who went from bad to decent in the first run, should be at his best; Root and Dan Lawrence should cobble together a wicket or two with their slow allsorts. With Mark Wood incapacitated, there could be a blast of Ben Stokes’ flaming old ball, sore foot permitting, and some clever Darren Gough cuts from the unlikely pair of new balls from Woakes and Overton.
OK, on second thought, a lot of planets should line up. But if a sports fan can’t dream, who can? And when you look for England’s most efficient bowlers in the fourth innings over the past four years, the top three on average, ahead of Broad and Anderson, are Woakes, Leach and Stokes.
The game starts at 9.30am in Antigua, 1.30pm GMT, to make up for lost time due to rain, so join me to see if this new England really means business.