Root returns to lead England as West Indies eye series win
MANCHESTER: England have dropped batsman Joe Denly for the second Test against the West Indies, returning captain Joe Root confirmed on Wednesday.
Root missed England’s four-wicket loss in last week’s first Test following the arrival of his second child. But the star batsman has slotted back into the side for the second Test at Old Trafford starting from Thursday.
The 34-year-old Denly was always likely to make way after two low scores in last week’s loss at Southampton left him with a modest average of 29.53 from 15 Tests.
Denly’s place was put under further threat by an innings of 76 from Kent team-mate Zak Crawley at the Ageas Bowl.
“It’s never an easy decision, never easy having to leave someone out,” Root told a conference call on Wednesday. “With Joe [Denly] over a period of time he’s done a brilliant job for us, he’s helped show our identity as a side and how we played moving forward. It’s a very difficult decision but we’ve gone a different way.”
The Yorkshireman added: “You watch Zak’s progression since he’s been involved in the team, his game has continued to get stronger.
“Joe is someone who has done a fantastic job for us over a period of time and he’ll be as frustrated as anyone that he’s not been able to covert those opportunities.”
West Indies need just one win from the two remaining Tests of the campaign at Old Trafford to clinch a first series win in England for 32 years.
Although all three fixtures are being played behind closed doors because of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, Root will be in a familiar situation.
England have now lost the opening match of a series for the eighth time in ten campaigns, a run dating back to the 2017-18 Ashes in Australia.
Most recently in South Africa they did recover from a heavy defeat in the first Test to win that series 3-1.
But now at 1-0 down with just two to play, there is far less margin for error.
England are set to make a decision on pacer Stuart Broad later on. Broad was omitted for the series-opener as England opted for the speed of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood and the experience of James Anderson in their pace attack.
Following their victory in Southampton, West Indies are on the verge of sealing their first Test series win in England in more than three decades.
“There’s no pressure for us,” said West Indies skipper Jason Holder. “We don’t get caught up in the off-field noise. It’s about us focusing on what we need to do to win the series.
“The series is still wide open. There are 10 days of cricket left. England are a very good team, they have some world-class players. We’ve got our work cut out to win another game.”
England wicket-keeper Jos Buttler dropped Jermaine Blackwood early in the West Indies’ batsman’s match-clinching innings of 95 on Sunday’s final day at Southampton.
And another pair of low scores left Buttler with a Test average of just 23.22 since the start of 2019 and now only one hundred in 75 innings.
But even though England have gifted gloveman Ben Foakes waiting in the wings, head coach Chris Silverwood said: “First and foremost we want to give Jos the best opportunity to succeed.”
West Indies fast bowler Shannon Gabriel was named man-of-the-match in the first Test for a nine-wicket haul. He was only included in the main squad after being named as a travelling reserve following ankle surgery.
Given the second Test starts just days after the end of the first, fitness is likely to be the West Indies’ biggest issue as they return to Old Trafford, the venue for their quarantine period amid the pandemic and two subsequent intra-squad warm-up matches.
The West Indies arrived in England with many doubting if their batsmen could give an impressive fast-bowling unit enough runs to play with.
But they built a first-innings lead of over a hundred runs at Southampton after captain Jason Holder took a Test-best 6-42 in England’s lowly 204.
Set 200 to win, the West Indies did then collapse to 27-3 and saw opener John Campbell retire hurt.
But Blackwood stepped up, even if the rashness that has characterised his stop-start West Indies career saw him fall five runs short of what would have been only his second Test century when he tried to hit over the top.
By then, despite some taunts from stand-in England captain Ben Stokes, Blackwood had all but sealed victory.
“I wasn’t really paying too much attention to that, I was keen on getting the runs and getting my team across the line,” Blackwood said of Stokes’ words. “That didn’t faze me at any point in time. Once I’m at the crease, they’re the ones under pressure, not me.”
ENGLAND: Joe Root (captain), Ben Stokes, Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, James Anderson.
WEST INDIES: Jason Holder (captain), Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shamarh Brooks, Shai Hope, Roston Chase, Jermaine Blackwood, Shane Dowrich, Rahkeem Cornwall, Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph, Shannon Gabriel, Chemar Holder, Nkrumah Bonner, Raymon Reifer.
Umpires: Michael Gough (England) and Richard Illingworth (both England).
TV umpire: Richard Kettleborough (England).
Match referee: Chris Broad (England).