March 26, 2019, 11:28

Best of the Test: Edgbaston – Pink balls and Cook churning out 243

Best of the Test: Edgbaston – Pink balls and Cook churning out 243

The pink ball provided a different test at Edgbaston but some things remained the same: Alastair Cook piling on the runs and England continuing their recent home dominance of the Windies.

Joe Root’s men racked up over 500 as Test cricket in England went day-night for the first time – Cook contributing 243 and the skipper 135 – before they skitttled the beleaguered tourists for 168 and 137.

All but one of the 20 Windies wickets fell on day three and all but one of their batsmen – Jermaine Blackwood, who struck an enterprising 79 in his side’s opening dig, the anomaly – failed to deal with England’s attack as the home side completed an innings and 209-run victory.

Here we look at the key points from an historic ‘twilight’ Test in the UK and 50th Test in total for Edgbaston – and how it ended with one England seamer overhauling a cricketing legend…

Pink-ball focus

The inaugural day-night Test between Australia and New Zealand proved popular, with over 123,000 people attending the Adelaide Oval in November 2015 across a game that lasted three days, and two more have been held in Oz since, Steve Smith’s charges hosting South Africa and Pakistan.

The fourth day-night Test was held in Dubai, a perfect venue, according to Sky Sports statistician Benedict Bermange, due to the warm climes and early nightfall in the Emirates, but how would the format transfer to England, where, you know, the temperatures aren’t always exactly scorching?

Well, quite well actually. Edgbaston reported a boom in ticket sales beforehand, with many buyers never having attended a traditional day Test match before, and the second-day attendance of 23,922 was the highest at the Birmingham ground for a non-Ashes Test since records began in 2001.

Despite a smattering of rain and the crowds dwindling slightly towards the end of days one and two, the atmosphere remained as electric as ever, with fans in the Eric Hollies Stand – a fair few Hulk Hogans, Little Bo Peeps and bearded brides were spotted – not put off by the shift in Test timings.

It took Cook a little while to get his bearings, though! “I was yawning at 9pm because it was past my bedtime,” said the former England captain. “It was slightly unusual, because you’re programmed to play in white kit starting at 11am with a red ball – it’s what we’ve done for all our careers.”

And what of the pink nut? Well, Sky Sports pundit Mark Butcher remarked on Twitter that it was not altogether easy for fans to pick up on TV, while Mikey Holding, commentating at the ground, remarked that the ball behaved more unpredictably than its tried and trusted red counterpart.

An interesting experiment, then, but the ECB have remained non-committal on when the next one will take place. It’s highly unlikely to be next year when Pakistan and Sri Lanka tour England, with the timings of a day-night Test in this country not overly suitable for those watching in Asia.

Relentless Cook racks them up

The pink ball – actually described as fuchsia by Michael Atherton – may have delayed Cook’s nightly kip but it didn’t cause him much alarm while batting, the opener hitting it for 33 fours as he matched David Gower’s tally of two double centuries at Edgbaston and overtook the Sky Sports presenter’s record 767 Test runs at the ground.

As well as lift the hosts into a dominant position they would not yield, Cook importantly converted a half-century into three figures, something he had only achieved five times in the last 31 he had passed fifty. A daddy hundred it was, then, with Cook’s traditional cuts and pulls interspersed with some flamboyant drives, particularly while he added 248 with Root for the third wicket on day one.

“He knows the areas where he wants to score and, importantly, the areas where he is vulnerable – and he leaves those latter areas well alone,” reflected Nasser Hussain. “He bats the same way wherever he is and whether he is on one, 51, 101 or 201, which shows terrific mental strength.

“Alastair was full of admiration for Root’s century but at no point did he try to bat like him or keep him up with him in the scoring stakes. It was tremendous mental and physical competence.” Cook’s 31st Test century moved him one behind Steve Waugh and within three of Sunil Gavaskar, Brian Lara, Mahela Jayawardene and Younus Khan. You get the feeling the records will continue to tumble.

Windies labour with bat and ball

The wickets did not tumble in the England innings, though, not until Dawid Malan was caught at slip on the stroke of tea on Friday and the hosts’ vibrant middle order perished looking to accelerate. Kemar Roach earned mild praise from Bob Willis on day one, while spinner Roston Chase ended with four wickets, including the scalp of Cook lbw on review, the dismissal that prompted Root to declare.

But the tourists’ fielding was slipshod and the bowling, well, Windies seam legend Andy Roberts gave a blunt assessment after we saw more four balls than in the Solheim Cup. “I am a proud West Indian. I don’t expect us to win constantly, but what I do expect is for the team to fight. What I see now is not what I used to see in the past – no aggression at all in our bowling.”

There was also the debacle of the second new ball, with skipper Jason Holder delaying the use of it and persevering with Chase and part-time tweaker Kraigg Brathwaite, much to the chagrin of coach Stuart Law, before finally unleashing the new conker ahead of the final 30 minutes. “Their game awareness was poor,” mused Athers. And then there was the batting…

Kieran Powell and Kyle Hope battled valiantly under testing conditions on Friday evening as Windies closed on 44-1 but it was only Blackwood who impressed after that as Windies lost 19 wickets in a day for the first time and suffered their sixth heaviest loss in terms of runs against any opposition.

Two-division Test cricket?

The Windies’ malaise – they sit ahead of only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in the Test rankings – did not go unnoticed by Kevin Pietersen on Twitter, who described the visitors’ bowling line-up, Kemar Roach aside, as “help yourself”, or by Nasser Hussain, who analysed in-depth how Windies’ attack was second division compared to the first division one he saw from South Africa. There could be something in this division lark…

“Windies wouldn’t enjoy being in division two to start with but I think it would do them good to win some Test matches home and away – this constant pounding they get, primarily away from home, is not going to encourage young West Indians to play the longest form.”

Broad bests ‘hero’ Botham

Stuart Broad – definitely first division – wasn’t altogether complimentary about the pink ball during a chat with Ian Ward on Saturday morning but he used it to great effect under the lights on Saturday night, pinning Chase lbw with a grubber, forcing Holder to nick off first ball and then angling one back into Shane Dowrich’s off stump to move second on England’s all-time wicket-takers list.

Sir Ian Botham (383) is now third on that chart – the first time since 1984 he hasn’t been in the top two – but could not have been happier for the man that trumped him. “It was a matter of when, not if, he passed me and I think it’s terrific that he’s got there. He’s got height and pace and he gets bounce; perhaps most importantly of all he has that knack of producing match-changing spells.”

Broad said: “He [Botham] has been a hero of mine, the person who gave me my Test cap back in 2007 and someone who inspired me to play cricket for England with his performances against Australia. That inspires young kids so it is very special to be stood by him now and also up there in the rankings with him. It’s a very special day, having the family here.”

Anderson also played his part in England’s victory, bagging five wickets in the match, including three of Windies’ top five in the first innings. The Test marked the first time England’s top two wicket-takers have figured in the same Test for the first time since Fred Trueman and Brian Statham in 1963, with Anderson and Broad now having scooped 837 Test wickets while playing together.

Russell beguiles in The Zone

Jack Russell is one of a kind and we were lucky enough to have him enter The Zone for the latest Sky Cricket Masterclass, a fascinating half hour on the art of wicketkeeping, with his good friend and former England team-mate Atherton deployed at first slip and as a batsman, Jack, at times, manhandling Athers to get him in the desired position!

The legendary Gloucestershire gloveman demonstrated why soft hands were crucial behind the stumps, the thumb exercises he used to keep loose, and why, perhaps surprisingly, he chose to ignore the stumps whenever he kept wicket. “The ball was my world,” he said.

Russell’s keeping capabilities were valued by team-mates and fans alike but his grubby gloves and hat also added to his character – and both survive to this day! Jack attempted to put on his favourite, and now very crusty, gloves, before apologising for the smell, and ended the masterclass by donning his famed, dingy sun hat one more time!

Watch England take on West Indies in the second Test – live on Sky Sports Cricket from 10am on Friday.


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