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Gabriel & Roach hark back to West Indies' glory years, despite familiar failings

176   //    25 Aug 2017, 23:48 IST
Gabriel - cropped
Shannon Gabriel looks on after Joe Root is dropped off his bowling

West Indies' recent Test exploits have all too often played out with an air of futility, but Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach flipped the script on Friday to raise hopes of an evenly fought Headingley Test against England. 

Ben Stokes' sixth Test hundred was Friday's abiding memory after an evening session dominated by the all-rounder, but Roach and Gabriel dished out a wonderfully nostalgic display of bowling brilliance, albeit in a display from the tourists tinged with a whiff of 'what might have been'.

Frightful fast bowling was the hallmark of the great West Indies teams and though Gabriel and Roach are far from Joel Garner and Michael Holding, theirs were performances steeped in classic Caribbean cleverness.

Four wickets apiece for Roach and Gabriel were rich reward for their pivotal contributions to a first day in Leeds that saw some of the pride restored to this much-maligned Windies team.

A thrashing by an innings and 209 runs in the day-night series opener at Edgbaston was an inauspicious start, though the nature of that defeat was brought on by limp batting performances after England had posted a domineering 514-8 declared.

Those same batsmen that struggled in Birmingham ought to be re-energised in Yorkshire, however, with Gabriel and Roach especially giving them something to work with.

Absent at Edgbaston, Gabriel's recall was immediately rewarded with fast, awkward bowling which accounted for Alastair Cook and exposed the hosts' fragile underbelly.

It was Roach who would tuck into the soft meat, trapping Tom Westley (3) plumb in front and then tempting Mark Stoneman (19) into a foolish shot - a far cry from the off-stump kissing beauty that had bowled the same batsman in Birmingham, but no less rewarding.

Though Dawid Malan was another underperforming England batsman to depart, there will remain fears that West Indies' own flakiness could surface as this Test goes on - there were enough signs despite a successful day of it here.

Gabriel saw Joe Root dropped on eight before the hosts' skipper went on to equal AB de Villiers' record of notching a half-century in 12 consecutive Test matches, while Roach was a foot-stomping vision of anger when he found Stokes' edge twice in quick succession, only to see the ball bounce out of Kraigg Brathwaite's palms and then sail through a vacant third-slip position.

Stokes was again put down on 98, bringing up his century the next ball, as Gabriel failed to hold onto a ball aimed at the centre of his chest - Roach's rage was not sated by his bowling partner being the one to wrong him on this occasion.

Perhaps that error gave the strapping, but seemingly sapped, Gabriel the second wind he required because England would not score another run after he bounced out centurion Stokes with a well-aimed short ball reminiscent of so many of his predecessors.

Such a clinical extraction of the tail gave a topsy-turvy day matching bookends - Gabriel and Roach offering unplayable fare to England batsmen who could do little about it.

Only eight sides have scored fewer than 260 runs batting first here and won the Test match - another good omen for Jason Holder's men, but five dropped catches in the England innings will leave the captain wondering what his hosts could have been restricted to on another day.

West Indies ended Friday's play on 19-1, still 239 runs adrift of England, but they now know that a better performance with the bat has a chance of being rewarded by Gabriel and Roach's high-speed heroics.

While recapturing the fire of Garner, Holding, Andy Roberts and Colin Croft has probably never felt more unlikely, the incumbent pace pairing can at least be the driving force for a return to some chest-puffing swagger in this Test.

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