England: Tourists off to rocky start against West Indies despite afternoon session rally
England’s hopes of banishing their post-Ashes blues in Antigua got off to a rocky start as they struggled to 145 for five at tea on day one of the first Test against the West Indies.
Exactly seven weeks since they concluded a miserable tour of Australia, Joe Root led a much-changed side into some familiar trouble at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. After much discussion about a ‘reset’ for their red-ball side, long-standing problems in the top order were quick to rear their head.
Kemar Roach landed two major blows, dismissing debutant opener Alex Lees for just four to continue England’s travails at the head of the innings before clean bowling Root for 13 offering no shot.
With Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence also failing to hold off a stirring effort from the home attack, England were in peril at 48 for four.
A stand of 67 between Ben Stokes (36) and Jonny Bairstow (35no) restored some stability either side of lunch but, when the former lost his leg stump to 20-year-old quick Jayden Seales in the afternoon session, the Windies were back on top.
Bairstow, who scored an unbeaten century in last week’s warm-up match as well as one in his last Test appearance in Sydney, carried the fight until tea with Ben Foakes 21no on his recall.
Root had the advantage of winning the toss on what looked a reasonable batting track, but England’s struggles to post big totals are deep-set.
Lees got off the mark with a boundary from his fifth ball in international cricket, squirting to third man, but that was as good as it got for the Durham left-hander.
Roach set him up with a sequence of away swingers then brought one back in to win an lbw. It was a high-class lesson for the newcomer after several years of waiting for his chance.
Crawley had started with a glorious on drive for four and a punch through the covers but his stay was infuriatingly brief. Aiming a lavish drive at Seales, he allowed the bat to turn in his hands and gave a sharp catch to wicketkeeper Joshua Da Silva.
Root’s move back up to number three – aimed at bringing solidity to the line-up – did not go to plan, arriving far earlier than he would have liked and leaving in similar haste.
He was fortunate when he hit Roach through Jermaine Blackwood’s dive in the cordon, only to lose his off bail to a magnificent display of precision bowling from the Bajan.
Withdrawing his bat after his previous temptation, he saw the ball zip back in the perfect amount. Root needed to check behind him to confirm his fate, while Roach stood motionless at the top of his follow through, basking in the moment.
Jason Holder took care of Lawrence, who made a busy 20 before nicking to Blackwood, and did not concede a single run from his first five overs. The engine room of Stokes and Bairstow battled back, employing outright defence before lunch as they shared 10 runs in 74 deliveries, before picking up the pace.
Bairstow was reliably secured as he settled into the pace of the pitch throughout the middle session, but Stokes was not quite at his best. There was a mis-timed pull high over Da Silva’s head, a chance that Holder failed to pick up at second slip as he skewed off the toe end and an edge that fell just short.
His luck ran out after a pair of boundaries off Seales, stepping into a hungry drive and dragging down his leg stump. Bairstow continued to look steady and Foakes hit a couple of sweet strokes as the pair reached the tea break without further damage done.
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