At the ground where the names of the great Barbados and West Indies cricketers adorn the stands Joe Root further burnished his claim to be an English equivalent, finessing his 25th Test century and with it his most enjoyable day of the winter.
As the two sides strolled off the field at the close of day one of this second Test, the visitors – and the hordes of traveling supporters who have taken over Kensington Oval – should have been by far the happier. Root was unbeaten on 119 from 246 balls and England were well set on 244 for three.
But where West Indies might have been tired and chuntering after a day of self-inflicted wounds, a late bonus had instead come their way, Jason Holder claiming the wicket of Dan Lawrence for 91 and breaking a third-wicket stand of 164 that was threatening an England record at this ground.
Lawrence was crestfallen, slumping to the ground in disbelief after drilling the ball straight to Kraigg Brathwaite in the covers; the Essex right-hander is yet to taste three-figures in Test cricket and a chance to experience this sensation early on the second day had slipped away with one errant drive.
It also represented a reprieve unpunished by Lawrence, who seven overs earlier had been dropped on 72 when he flashed hard at a wide one from Jayden Seals only for Alzarri Joseph – a curious deployment at slip – to grass the ball. Having played so well up to this point, it was a lesson to be learned.
Instead, Root will walk out with Ben Stokes on the second day after anchoring the first in fine style and, with a second century in the space of a week, further vindicating his positive move up to No 3 despite the statistics saying otherwise.
There were a couple of lives along the way, it must be said. West Indies failed to review a fine tickle behind when Root had 23 to his name from him, while Joshua Da Silva, their wicketkeeper, put down a one-handed catch when the England captain glanced a tricky chance down leg on 34.
These two chances came within a stand of 76 alongside Alex Lees but Root seldom looked back, delivering the repertoire of shots that have been the hallmark of his career and bringing up three-figures 40 minutes after tea to the delight of his adoring supporters.
While Root was as watchable as ever it took the arrival of Lawrence to inject some impetus into the innings. This followed the demise of Lees who, over the course of three hours, had chiselled his way to 30 from 138 balls only to play around one from left-armer spinner Veerasammy Permaul for a simple lbw decision.
After two single-figure scores in Antigua on his debut, Lees overcame his tormentor in Kemar Roach and took the shine off the ball for those blessed with more strokes. The opener left plenty, passing up the odd half-volley at times, and made only one misjudgment before his demise of him when ducking into a short ball from Seals that clanged the side of his helmet. It wasn’t always pretty but it was progress.
In his place, and with Root fresh from bringing up his half-century, Lawrence positively crackled. Taking 10 balls to get off the mark, the right‑hander unfurled an array of attacking strokes either side of the tea interval.
Those present will remember his whipped six off Permaul, which sailed over midwicket and into the hospitality area in the Hall & Griffith, or the crisp back-to-back fours off Holder that went straight and then through midwicket with a touch of wristy flair thrown in good measure.
This had originally felt like a day for liming, with the pitch lacking zip and the main drama of a morning when England reached 47 for one coming before the start of play; as supporters poured through the turnstiles and into the ground there was the sight of Yorkshire’s Matt Fisher, paint pot in hand, marking out his run-up in glorious sunshine and with a smile as wide as the island.
A debut for Saqib Mahmood was already guaranteed when England named their XI a day earlier but here was a surprise second, with Craig Overton having reportedly felt unwell overnight. Cap presentations followed and members of the Fisher family were not just proud as rum punch but also £5,000 richer, after placing £100 on their lad to play for England at odds of 50-1 when he was 14.
You have to go back to 2009 at Lord’s against the same opposition for the last time England handed debuts to two seamers in the same Test – Graham Onions and Tim Bresnan – but Fisher and Mahmood had to wait their turn. The loss of Zak Crawley for a seven-ball duck was the only wicket to fall in a session in which neither side otherwise blinked.
Seals was the bowler to strike, a fine outswinger feathering the edge of Crawley’s bat when attempting to leave, forcing the opener to join the newcomers on the balcony for a day of watching others make hay in the sunshine.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism