After 117 days of inaction, Test cricket made a triumphant return this week, and fans were treated to an old-fashioned thriller at an empty Ageas Bowl.
In cricket’s first international fixture since March, Jermaine Blackwood’s day five heroics guided the West Indies to just their third Test victory in England since 1995.
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Sunday’s win proved a significant triumph for the West Indies. The eighth-ranked Test nation has a horrific record on the road, having not won an away series against any nation other than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh since the 1992/93 season.
Despite their poor form outside the Caribbean, Jason Holder’s side secured the gritty four-wicket victory over their old rivals in Southampton this week. Only one more win is needed for the West Indies to reclaim the coveted Wisden Trophy.
Many cited England’s poor fielding on day five as a reason for the historic loss, but a dumbfounding selection blunder proved the chief culprit for the team’s demise.
Ben Stokes captained his first Test match this week.Source:Getty Images
With star batsman Joe Root unavailable due to the birth of his first child, England were forced to name an inexperienced batting line-up for the opening match of the three-Test series.
England thankfully had a talented pace attack at their disposal — including James Anderson and Jofra Archer — but despite single-handedly embarrassing Australia’s top-order during last year’s Ashes series, veteran paceman Stuart Broad was not selected for the first Test XI. It was the first time he had not been picked for a home Test since 2012.
National selectors instead opted for the extra pace of Mark Wood, who averages 44.91 with the ball in home Test matches. Comparatively, part-timers Kane Williamson, Steve Smith and Root all boast better Test bowling averages on English soil.
Stuart Broad averages 26 in England
Mark Wood averages 44 in England
England dropping Stuart Broad is the dumbest thing I’ve heard since someone tried to explain The Hundred to me
Substitute skipper Ben Stokes explained the reasoning behind the bizarre decision during Wednesday’s coin toss.
“Obviously, a very, very tough decision,” Stokes said.
“We feel Woody and Jofra’s pace adds another dimension to the options we can have. Obviously there’s a lot of disappointment around with this being the first game back but the two guys missing out took it like absolute champions and understood the reasons.
“Stuart took it like an absolute champion and to be fair he wished me all the best. It’s a big day for me and we’re quite close off the field as well so it was nice to hear.”
Sky Sports commentator and Jamaican cricket great Michael Holding was understandably shocked by the selection call.
“I think the West Indies won’t mind seeing him sat down in the dressing room and not being out there with Jimmy Anderson,” Holding said.
“Not to say England don’t still have an outstanding bowling attack. They’ve got a great bowling attack.
“But just the thought that you’re batting against two men operating together with over 1000 wickets – that must play on your mind a bit.”
England’s second greatest bowler in history watches from the sidelines.Source:Getty Images
Former England captain Michael Atherton labelled Broad and Anderson “the best and most enduring new-ball partnership England have ever had” and was certain the former would get an opportunity to feature sometime this summer.
“Until now if James Anderson and Stuart Broad were fit and available for selection in a Test match in England they would have always up to this point been first choice for any captain,” Atherton told Sky Sports.
“There are six Tests in six weeks and Stuart Broad at some stage this summer will get a chance to make his case, and boy, will he want to make that case.”
In 2015, Australian selectors realised extra pace in seam bowlers was not particularly rewarding on England’s pitches, when Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson struggled to have an impact in the foreign conditions.
Likewise, Wood finished this week’s Test with the underwhelming figures of 2/107, only capable of removing one top-order batsman in the five-day match.
Meanwhile, Holder had no such difficulty in Southampton.
Despite bowling approximately 20km/h slower than Wood, the West Indies skipper claimed career-best figures of 6/42 in the first innings. His swing through the air and seam off the pitch proved a dangerous weapon.
England also had two classy swing bowlers at their disposal, but one was seated on the sidelines, unable to rescue his powerhouse team from defeat.
Stuart Broad should bowl really well on this surf…. oh.
May be a silly comment just before our bowlers take the field, but Stuart Broad would have been lethal in these conditions… 🏴 #ENGvWI
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Unsurprisingly, Broad was bitterly disappointed to be axed for the season’s opening fixture, and made his displeasure crystal clear on Friday.
“I spoke to Ed Smith last night and he said he’s involved in picking the 13 and they picked based purely for this pitch,” Broad told Sky Sports.
“I wanted clarifications for the future going forward, and I was given pretty positive feedback in going forward.
“I’m not a particularly emotional person, but I’ve found the last couple of days quite tough. To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement. You get disappointed if you drop your phone and break the screen.
“I’ve been frustrated, angry, gutted. Because it’s quite a hard decision to understand. I’ve probably bowled the best I’ve ever bowled in the last couple of years, I felt like it was my shirt having been in the team in the Ashes and then going to South Africa and winning there.
“I’m quite pleased I feel frustrated and gutted and angry, because if I didn’t, I’d have a different decision to make.
“I don’t think I’ve anything to prove. England know what I can do. The selectors know what I can do and when I get that opportunity again, you can bet that I’ll be on the money.”
So much respect for Stuart Broad coming out and speaking so openly and honestly.
This can be really tough to do and only a few athletes are ever this honest.
You can tell Stuart Broad is absolutely devastated about being left out, and rightly so. Love the bloke and expect him to do bits once he returns to the side all fired up
Broad has taken 485 wickets for England in his impeccable 138-Test career. The 34-year-old was England’s highest wicket-taker during the recent Ashes series, and averages 26.69 with the ball on home soil.
Since making his debut in 2007, only Anderson has claimed more Test wickets than Broad in England.
Despite the loss, Stokes refused to admit the selectors had made an error.
“If I was to regret that, it sends the wrong message to the other guys I picked,” Stokes said after day five.
“We’re in a fortunate position that we’re able to leave somebody out of Stuart’s quality and I thought the interview he gave the other day was actually fantastic, the passion that he showed in that interview.
“I’d actually be very worried if he didn’t show that desire and passion towards not being selected. Someone who’s played that many Test matches and got that many wickets – to still see that desire and emotion is fantastic to see, you know, as a senior player in this team.”
The second Test between England and the West Indies commences on Thursday at Old Trafford.
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