This could just be the day when England’s red-ball reset began to take shape. It was not quite a famous victory after the misery of the Ashes but England and their under-pressure captain showed real enterprise, belief and positivity to get as close as they possibly could to a shock last day first Test triumph.
This game seemed to be going nowhere after four low-key days on the sort of dreadfully slow, flat pitch that really should be outlawed for the health of Test cricket.
But England came into the last day determined to back up their pledge to go all out for victory and even though the surface at the Sir Viv Richards Stadium remained dead as a dodo they put pressure on West Indies right up until a draw was called at 5.35pm.
England’s opening Test against West Indies ended in a draw despite valiant final-day effort from tourists
Nkrumah Bonner (left) brought calm to the West Indies innings after they lost four wickets
By then West Indies had steadied their ship to finish on 147 for four, first innings centurion Nkrumah Bonner again bringing calm after Jack Leach had taken three wickets and Ben Stokes had inevitably claimed another to leave them wobbling on 67 for four.
But England can take real heart from this after their run of just one win in their last 14 Tests had led to a brutal post-Ashes cull and the self-inflicted pressure created by leaving their two champion bowlers in Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad at home.
First England came flying out of the blocks to add another 132 runs in 25 overs, with Joe Root joining Zak Crawley in making a century before both perished in the pursuit of making enough runs to give themselves time to bowl West Indies out.
Then Root sprung a surprise by declaring 20 minutes before lunch and seemingly giving West Indies a chance to repeat their famous run chase at Headingley five years ago by leaving them 286 to win in 70 overs.
Jack Leach took three of the four wickets on day five and has done himself a lot of good here
Ben Stokes had inevitably claimed another to leave them wobbling on 67 for four
And it was a declaration made even more bold by the absence of England’s best bowler in Mark Wood from the attack for this last day and probably the rest of the series.
The reality was that a West Indies side just as brittle as England never came close to their target but they were forced on to the back foot by an England attack that had looked completely underwhelming throughout the first innings.
At the centre of that was a man playing for his Test future in this series in Leach. All too often over the past couple of under-achieving years England have given the impression they do not truly belief the Somerset man is of Test calibre but they have vowed to give him a proper chance here and encouraged him to have a bigger voice in the team.
Leach was not able to fully seize that chance because he was not able to bowl West Indies out on a final day pitch but he has done himself a lot of good here, both in his first innings containment and second innings attacking role.
The start of the day saw Joe Root (above) join Zak Crawley in making a Test century
What has never been in doubt is the quality of Root and now he set more records with his 24th Test century, moving above Kevin Pietersen, and his 13th as captain, one more than Alastair Cook’s previous best tally. And this time he celebrated by kissing a necklace made for him by his children, just as he told his son Alfie he would.
It came in a first session of welcome entertainment from England, led by a cameo of 37 from Dan Lawrence, who also did himself some good with four fours and a six, all made with his trademark flamboyant unorthodoxy.
But England got ahead of themselves a little when they lost four wickets in five overs and Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes had to regroup before Root decided, with 300 plus on the board for the second time in the Test, he had enough even on this dead pitch.
It was a declaration in contrast to the lack of enterprise at the start of last summer that set the tone for much of what has followed, England making no attempt to chase 273 in 75 overs against New Zealand at Lord’s.
And it could have been an inspired one had England reviewed a not out lbw shout against Jason Holder which technology showed would have hit the stumps.
Root declared 20 minutes before lunch, a bold call without Mark Wood (above) being able to help
If West Indies had lost the giant Holder then, with West Indies on 89 for four, who knows what might have happened. But it was to prove England’s last hope as Holder and Bonner held firm. Honours even ahead of Wednesday’s second Test in Barbados but it is England who will have more of a spring in their step against most expectations.
The mood of optimism at the end of this long all too often dull Test was only punctured by the injury to Wood that seems certain to rule him out of the rest of this series and quite possibly beyond to his £735,000 IPL contract with Lucknow Super Giants.
Wood reported ‘acute pain’ when he tried to bowl before play on Saturday and now joins the other bowlers of extreme pace in Jofra Archer and Olly Stone England had hoped would win them the Ashes on the casualty list.
England chose not to review a not out lbw shout against Jason Holder which technology showed would have hit the stumps
And it is no great surprise as this is his fifth Test of the winter and he bowled more than perhaps was wise after the Ashes were lost in Australia.
England were encouraged by the sight of Ollie Robinson bowling at full pace in the middle during lunch and tea on Saturday but it could be that Saqib Mahmood, the nearest to Wood in this squad in terms of skiddy pace and reverse swing, makes his Test debut on Wednesday.
Liam Norwell of Warwickshire is the favourite should England send for a replacement, with neither Anderson nor Broad on stand-by.
The absence of the big two will continue to cast a cloud over England as they seek to start again here. But for now at least they provided something else to talk about.
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