West Indies blunt England on day two to leave first Test evenly poised

Jason Holder (R) ended day two on 43 not out

Undulating, bitty, slow and challenging. Day two of the second Test in Antigua had moments when it seemed to burst to life before dying down once more. At the end of a tussle with enough pauses to rob both sides of impetus at various points, West Indies could be satisfied with their 202 for four, 109 behind England’s first innings score of 311.

Jason Holder (43 not out) and Nkrumah Bonner (34*) remain, a partnership of 75 and counting earned with diligence to every one of the 190 deliveries they faced together. England, who started loosely with the ball, can be satisfied by their fightback, though will wonder how to play things on Thursday first up with a ball that is not playing ball, and 13.1 overs until they can get their hands on a new one. Days like these don’t win many awards, but we’ve seen enough Test cricket to know they often precede thrilling finales.

Once the morning rains had passed, all eyes were on Jonny Bairstow to see how many he could add to his overnight score of 109 not out, especially after Chris Woakes became the seventh wicket to fall when undone by Jayden Seales’s extra bounce – who finished with four for 79 – in the day’s first over. He’d made it to 140 before he was the last man out, providing the bulk of the 43 runs as he marshalled the final three batters who managed just five between them. Had Holder held onto a return catch, he might have been gone for 126, and England might not have passed 300. As it was, a lusty hack and a careful dab through the cordon took the tourists past that mark for the first time in 13 innings.

Those early runs were wiped out by lunch as openers Kraigg Brathwaite and John Campbell, who went into lunch with 44 between them from 10 overs. That rate of scoring persisted after the break, as an Anderson-and-Broad-less attack over- and under-pitched. Chris Woakes and Craig Overton, the purveyors of this particular new Dukes ball, were ragged enough for Joe Root to have gone to all five of his main bowling options by the 23rd over.

Overton, however, had found success by that point: a short delivery swatted away by Campbell (35) as if it were a fly, but down the leg side to Ben Foakes. The opening stand of 83 inside 20 overs looked like the perfect platform for the West Indies. And when Brathwaite moved to 50 from 62 deliveries – the fastest of the 33 times he had made it to that figure – things were looking ominous. The home captain has usually played the part of barnacle, clinging on for long periods to out-wait rather than outwit opponents. Yet here he was with a spring in his step, most notable when he fetched Jack Leach down the ground for the first six of the match.

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It was this mode, however, that contributed to Brathwaite’s (55) demise and a top-order collapse of three for 26 in the space of 56 balls. A wide flap at Mark Wood picked out Overton at gully, before Shamarh Brooks (18) edged an away-swinger from Ben Stokes to Root at slip and then Jermaine Blackwood (11) edged onto his front pad for a much simply catch to Overton, in the same position. Blackwood was lucky to still be there in the first place, dropped on nought off the inside edge by Foakes – a chance reminiscent of the chance taken by West Indies’ keeper Joshua da Silva to remove Zak Crawley on day one.

The rains returned just as Holder had made it out to the middle, meaning an early tea on 127 for four. And they would make further appearances to break up a final session that was intriguing if not all that entertaining. England found some reverse swing, primarily through Wood and the late movement his angle and pace conjures. But Holder and Nkumrah Bonner remained defiant, playing everything straight and refusing to be drawn anything unnecessary.

And so the two teams came together and moved apart, like boxers moving in and out of clinches, neither willing (or able) to land a telling blow. Neither blinked, though England were clearly the more frustrated as they approached umpires Joel Wilson and Gregory Brathwaite to try and get the ball changed once it had been proved dormant.

Root brought himself on in the 57th over, with West Indies 167 for four, which felt in its own way like a temporary white flag. The first ball of his second over was fetched over long leg by Holder for a six to bring up the 50 stand. And with that, the chokehold on scoring was gradually loosened.

Leach, however, was keeping his end tidy, peeling off seven maidens in a row before a change of ends. But as Woakes finished from his end with Foakes standing up, and Leach closed out the day a ball shy of maiden number 10 before bad light took us to stumps, the elements and slow pitch probably took the spoils on day two. Nevertheless, with three days to go and a better weather forecast, the match remains evenly poised.

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