Day two in Barbados was one to savor for the England supporters who have landed on the island seeking sun and fun. First came a destructive and emotional 11th Test century for Ben Stokes, followed by the sight of Matthew Fisher wheeling away in delight after claiming a wicket with just his second ball on debut.
Come stumps, as thoughts turned to evening plans, this combination had left the visitors in the ascendancy. England had declared on 507 for nine after tea, a total built on Joe Root’s eight-hour 153 and Stokes plundering 120 from 128 balls, with West Indies then reaching 71 for one after 27 overs of graft.
With a huge slab of runs on the board, shadows lengthening on the outfield and a wall of noise from the stands, this was always going to be a tricky period for the hosts. They were facing a refreshed England attack too, with Fisher and Saqib Mahmood straining for their first bowl in international cricket.
Mahmood had to wait, a lively four-over burst arriving before stumps, but Fisher was thrown the new ball and delivered an instant return. Bounding in from the Joel Garner End, the 24-year-old saw his first delivery sliced to the boundary by John Campbell, only for its follow-up to be loosely snicked behind.
It was a golden moment for the young Yorkshireman as he pointed skywards in memory of his father, Phil, who died 10 years ago. It was also a bright start overall. During five brisk overs Fisher got good carry and nearly claimed a second when Sharmah Brooks edged millimetres short of slip. The No3 will summarize on 31 first thing, with his captain, Kraigg Brathwaite, 28 not out.
Whether Root’s bowlers can prize out 19 wickets on this benign pitch remains to be seen but the return of Stokes the destroyer is a boon after a rushed and unsuccessful comeback during the Ashes. It followed a four-month break last year to address both a broken finger and his mental health, with the loss of his father, Ged Stokes, the previous December a contributing factor.
Ged, the former rugby league international, was his first thought when he dabbed Jayden Seals for a single that turned 99 into 100 after lunch. Dropping the bat and removing his helmet, Stokes looked to the skies and bent the middle finger on his left hand, denoting the digit his father had amputated during his playing days. Having smoked 11 fours and four sixes by this point, it was a rare moment of peace out in the middle.
Things had started sedately, in fairness, Root resuming on 119 and England adding 39 runs to their overnight 244 for three in the first hour. You could sense Stokes was bristling, however. Fresh to the crease after the loss of Dan Lawrence the night before, the account was opened with a sumptuous on-driven four past Seals and a couple more carved square off Kemar Roach. When drinks came he was 22 not out from 44 balls and, it transpired, ready to erupt.
Chris Gayle is on the island this week, enjoying himself in the party booth, and what followed out in the middle was straight from the Universe Boss playbook. While Root continued his cool accumulation, Stokes went into overdrive, ransacking Veerasammy Permaul and Alzarri Joseph, threatening a rare century inside a session and sending Gayle’s new friends into raptures.
Stokes was particularly disdainful of Permaul’s left-arm spin, reverse-sweeping fours and launching three mighty sixes. The second of these sent the ball onto the roof of the Worrell, Weekes and Walcott Stand before trickling into its gutter, forcing a box of replacements to come out and bringing up his half-century from 73 balls.
Barely sated, the left-hander then set about vandalizing Joseph’s figures, plundering 20 runs off one over with a hat-trick of cracked fours, two leg byes and an outrageous six heaved down the ground. The salvo also took Stokes past 5,000 Test runs, joining an elite club of all-rounders alongside Jacques Kallis, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, and Garfield Sobers to all this with 150-plus wickets.
One half-chance came when Stokes was on 58 and Joshua da Silva was slow to spot a stumping opportunity. Instead he went into the break 11 runs short of three figures with Root, scarcely able to suppress his smile from him at the other end, having quietly brought up his 12th score of 150 or more.
West Indies had been as powerless to resist Stokes as their Australian equivalents at Headingley three years ago or the South Africans he took for 258 in Cape Town in 2016. This innings most resembled the latter and, after Roach finally winkled out Root lbw on review, it similarly ended with self-destruction, Stokes holing out when attempting a third straight six off Brathwaite.
From 373 for four at the demise of Root, England continued the charge. Frisky cameos from Jonny Bairstow (20), Ben Foakes (33) and Chris Woakes (41) helped them pass the 500-mark for the first time since they compiled 578 all out in Chennai 13 months ago to set up a rare away victory in India.
Just one win from 15 Tests has come during the intervening period. Nevertheless, through the class of Root, the returning fire of Stokes and Fisher’s bright arrival, the clouds are beginning to part a fraction.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism