Thus far, in this edition of the Ashes, groundskeepers have seemingly gotten more press than any individual batsman or bowler. Much was made of the first pitch in Cardiff—and while it eventually proved to be a surface conducive to entertaining cricket—the claim that England is intentionally preparing slow, flat wickets will only gain steam after Lord’s proved to be even more lifeless than Sophia Gardens.
England, however, were not the beneficiary of the deadened pitch. In a day that saw only a single wicket fall, Australia—who had won the toss and chose to bat first—suffocated any chance of a victory for the home side after a mere three sessions. By evening, the tourists were 337-1, with the loss of David Warner’s wicket attributable to the batsman’s foolish bravado rather than any menace from England’s attack. For Alastair Cook and company, it was, as they say, a bad toss to lose.
As the old cliché goes: strong Yorkshire, strong England. But on the opening day of the 2015 Ashes, those in attendance at Sophia Gardens were reminded that every tired maxim contains at least a kernel of truth. After a shaky opening that saw England fall to 43 for three after just 14 overs, Yorkshire’s own Gary Ballance and Joe Root stabilized the home side and led a spirited fightback on a slow, plodding pitch, putting England ahead of Australia going into the second day.
Leading up to a series such as the Ashes, simplistic, often misleading narratives abound. However, in the opening session, the match followed the media-industrial complex’s script to a T. Alastair Cook, Adam Lyth, and Ian Bell—all considered enigmas to varying degrees—combined for a meager sum of just 27 runs. English supporters, at first replete with optimism after their side’s swashbuckling performance in the ODI series against New Zealand, grew nervous. For England, the match needed saving.
“There is a distinct difference between suspense and surprise, and yet many pictures continually confuse the two.” – Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock may have been discussing the finer points of filmmaking, but he could have just as easily been talking about sport—an endeavor defined by soul crushing anxiety. Yet, of its innumerable permutations, perhaps no sport is better representative of terror in its most distilled form than cricket. And considering that one of Hitchcock’s films uses the 1938 Ashes as a major plot point, who’s to say he wasn’t acutely aware of this fact?
Filed under Test, The Ashes
In 1963, CLR James predicted the genesis of T20 cricket—or, at least, that the future of cricket lay in the improvisation and controlled recklessness that we now associate with the shortest form of the game.
Eulogizing Wilton St. Hill—a well-known Trinidadian batsman from the 1920s—James recalled the vicious beauty of Hill’s technique. Facing off against a fearsome paceman, Hill “…[w]ith his shoulder well up, almost scoop[ed] up the ball, his body following through almost towards point… hurtling [the ball] over mid-off’s head.” It was a shot that James believed Hill “had never had to make…before in his life.” For Hill, if success “required the invention of a stroke on the spot, invented it would be.” Presciently, James believed Hill’s style was “where a future for big cricket lies.”
Darren Bravo in Barbados. Photo Credit: YouTube
Bar English supporters, no one wanted to see Joe Root step into the crease in Barbados. Throughout the series, Root had terrorized the West Indies bowling attack—the most impressive performance being a masterful innings of 182 not out in the second Test. For nearly six hours, Root had been nothing less than omnipotent, swatting 21 boundaries, including four sixes. As England’s tenth wicket fell, Root stood alone—the architect of a 464 first-innings total that would ultimately undo the West Indies.
As Root strode out of the English dressing room a week later in Bridgetown, the outlook of a West Indian victory looked no less promising. Yet, with the third Test on a precipice, it would be Root who would fall. With Jason Holder bowling, Root attempted a defensive stroke: The ball caught an edge and carried into the open palms of the man at first slip. After facing just 13 balls and with a solitary run to his name, Root was dismissed. The Kensington Oval roared. Holder leaped into the air, his fist clenched, howling emphatically. Smiles stretched across the faces of the West Indian fielders. They realized how momentous this catch was. Root was gone. England had managed just 28 runs at the cost of four wickets in their second innings. Victory seemed within reach.
We’ll have more on the third West Indies v. England Test soon, but in the meantime, it appears that Jermaine isn’t the only Blackwood proficient with the bat. Meet Bruce—Jermaine’s brother—who, of all places, appears to play his cricket in the United States for Sportsmen’s Athletic Club.
Jason Holder celebrates his maiden century in Antigua.
The West Indies are finished, don’t you know? They’re in irrevocable decline. Cricket in the Caribbean is dead.
Fortunately, no one seems to have told Jason Holder and Jermaine Blackwood.