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Thursday, December 8, 2022

England suffer agonising moments in the field but door remains ajar in West Indies second Test

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n a long, hot day in the field, there were two agonising moments of missed opportunity for England on a pitch that remains as flat as it was when they racked up 500 runs for just the fourth time in five years.

The first was in the morning session. Ben Stokes had just picked up Nkrumah Bonner, immovable in Antigua, with a controversial lbw (did he hit it?), their second wicket of the day after Jack Leach had Shamarh Brooks caught lazily at backward point.

Stokes, with the old ball in his hand, was finding a little reverse swing. Jermaine Blackwood was new to the crease, and still scoreless. Stokes cannoned a ball into his back pad, and every England fielder went up in appeal. Umpire Nigel Duguid, on Test debut, said no.

Stokes settled for the decision, turning back to his mark. He thought it was sliding down the legside, and had no interest in DRS, even though his team-mates – including the captain Joe Root – seemed keen to use one of their three available reviews. As is so often the case, Stokes won the argument. The ball was crashing into leg-stump.

The second came after tea. By now, Blackwood had 65 and his partnership with Kraigg Brathwaite – nearing his 10th Test ton – was worth 128. England were into their 96th over in the field.

Saqib Mahmood, one of two England debutants, produced a beautiful yorker that slipped under Blackwood’s bat, and into the stumps. England wheeled off in celebration.

Duguid, though, had received a message from the third umpire, and held out his arm: no ball.

The moment was agony for Mahmood and his team-mates. But, for many of them, it was familiar. Mahmood is just the latest England bowler to be denied his maiden Test wicket by an overstep: think Stokes in 2013, Mark Wood in 2015, Tom Curran in 2017, and Mason Crane in 2018. Even in the Ashes this winter, Stokes, Ollie Robinson and Chris Woakes all had wickets chalked off for this reason.

It is an inexcusable mistake that no longer goes unnoticed. Mahmood had been pushing the line, and this was his fifth no ball of the innings. Every time this happened, England earnestly say they will address it in training, but elementary mistakes continue to be made.

By stumps, with the West Indies 288 for four (these errors felt so costly. Blackwood had followed Brathwaite in reaching his hundred, his third in Tests and second against England, for whom he has always saved his best, before falling in surprising fashion. With Dan Lawrence, the specialist partnership breaker, brought on for a speculative late spell, Blackwood simply shouldered arms. He reviewed in disbelief, but was not saved.

Plenty of damage, though, had been done. The captain and vice-captain played with calm and control in sharing 183, a stand that sucked a lot of air from England’s hopes of a win.

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