Paul Collingwood believed England’s players deserved medals after the Ashes, and at the end of the third day in Antigua – one that felt as disspiriting as anything witnessed in Australia – the interim head coach was ready to hand out more.
Over the course of nearly 10 hours Nkrumah Bonner’s 123 had ground West Indies to 373 for nine and a lead of 62. At the close Collingwood opted to front up while his charges put their feet in ice, offering the kind of upbeat assessment that was the hallmark of his own playing days.
“Absolutely not,” replied Collingwood when asked if he was disappointed with England’s bowlers. “I thought today was probably one of the best efforts I’ve seen in an England shirt and in Test cricket.
“To go for 170 runs and take five wickets today is a pretty good effort, especially backing that up from two sessions in the field yesterday. I thought the fitness levels the guys showed and the attitude in the field was exceptional.”
On one level his view was understandable. The pitch at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium has gone into a deep sleep and the efforts of Joe Root’s bowlers could scarcely be questioned, not least having lost Mark Wood to an elbow injury that has set alarm bells ringing over his continuation in this series.
Ben Stokes typically thundered in for his captain, chalking up 28 overs in the innings and 19 on the day when he was only meant to be used sparingly after a side strain. Jack Leach sat down 43 tight overs and was unfortunate to have just one wicket to show for his efforts.
But there was also a sense that an attack which has been asked to step out of the shadows of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad could in fact be out of its depth if conditions like these persist on tour. Chris Woakes and Craig Overton did little to shake the belief they are just a bit too English and 157 overs makes it the longest innings Root’s men have spent in the field this winter.
There was at least a moment of cheer before stumps, with the loopy, wrongfooted off-spin of Dan Lawrence finally raising Bonner from his rock when a faint tickle down leg was snaffled by Ben Foakes and given out on review. But this wicket should have come earlier in the piece, with Bonner edging Leach to slip via his pad on 73 only for Zak Crawley to grass the chance.
The biggest headache is Wood, the one Englishman to enhance his reputation in Australia. He was absent when West Indies resumed on 202 for four first thing before emerging with a tubigrip and strapping on his bowling arm. He seemed fine during an initial four-over burst but shortly after the second new ball he sent down six more deliveries that were down on pace and forced his exit.
Subsequently, Bonner was able to trust his defence. And though he lost Jason Holder early, who edged behind off Stokes for 45 when caught between leaving and playing, it meant the Jamaican No 4 could also put his faith in those supposedly less capable down the order.
After a two-hour stand of 73 with the wicketkeeper Joshua da Silva had finally been broken by Leach lbw, only Alzarri Joseph failed to repay Bonner at No 8, out for two attempting to hook Overton amid an easily telegraphed bumper plan. The more experienced Kemar Roach was not nearly so wasteful, however, enduring blows to the hand and body during an 89-ball 15 and driving Root for four to take West Indies into the lead when they reached tea on 322 for seven.
Even after Roach and Bonner had been separated, the No 9 run out from the deep by the substitute Ollie Pope, in came Veerasammy Permaul to offer 87 balls of resistance for an unbeaten 26. Both tailenders had taken their lead from Bonner, an orthodox right -hander who moments after tea swept Leach for four to move to a hard-earned century from 257 deliveries.
The persistence on show tallied with his story overall, Bonner having played a couple of forgettable Twenty20 internationals more than a decade ago and then almost given up on a professional career back in 2018 when runs proved so elusive while playing for the Leeward Islands.
He briefly moved to Houston, Texas, to work in construction before deciding to return to his native island of Jamaica for one last crack. And something clicked: Bonner forced his way on to the tour of England in 2020 with two centuries and an average of 58 in the regional four-day competition that preceded it.
Scores of 86 and 90 during his debut series in Bangladesh 12 months ago were followed by a maiden Test century on this ground that year; Bonner’s first-class average of 28.8 coming into this series was therefore deceptive.
The same could not be said about England’s fast-medium bowlers and the potential loss of Wood to this fresh elbow injury could now see Saqib Mahmood make his Test debut in Barbados next week.
There will be no SOS sent out to Anderson and Broad, however, with neither on the list of standby bowlers back at home. England, whose batsmen should be looking forward to day four, appear determined to do things the hard way.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism