Tale of two: Windies' Headingley heroics bring back Calcutta memories
Kraigg Brathwaite is a man of few words, Shai Hope even fewer. Windies didn't have many words either after Edgbaston. Hope and Brathwaite put together 246 runs in the first innings and 144 in the second. On the fifth day, James Anderson had bowled 10 overs either side of tea with the new ball just six overs away. When the second new ball was taken, Anderson could bowl only two overs with it in which he was slammed over his head for six by Jermaine Blackwood and carved through the covers by Hope.
This is not to say that the new ball or Anderson couldn't stop the Windies. They only needed 47 runs from a minimum of 15 overs when the second new ball was taken. The game had been lost by then. This is to say that Joe Root had to use Anderson, his best bowler in the match and in the history of English cricket, with the old ball because Hope and Brathwaite had blunted the remainder of the attack.
Windies played 85 overs on day 5 and lost 5 wickets. At Edgbaston, they played 76.4 overs on day 3 and lost 19 wickets. Hope scored 66 runs off his first 82 balls with 10 fours. Off the next 82 balls, he scored 27 with 3 fours. As the pressure mounted, Hope slowed down, quite in agreement with Curtly Ambrose's expectations from this Test.
"We have to give the young men a chance to grow. For now, I'm just hoping West Indies can compete at Headingley and Lord's because what we have seen so far has been pathetic," Ambrose had said after the humiliation at Edgbaston.
"West Indies must go back to the drawing board and return much stronger in Leeds on Friday. Losing one Test doesn't mean they are out of the series. Come back with aggression, confidence, and commitment."
Stuart Law who had replaced Ambrose as the coach of the side wasn't appreciative of those comments. "That is disappointing. Curtly not long ago was a coach with this team. It would have been nice if he had come into the dressing room to talk to the guys and express his displeasure to us. That would have been awesome but that didn't happen," Law had responded to Ambrose's criticism.
Ambrose might not have visited the dressing room but there were discussions nevertheless, as Brathwaite later revealed. Hope's twin hundreds in the Test marked the first occasion in the 127-year-old history of first-class cricket at Headingley that a batsman scored hundreds in each innings. His team scored 317 runs on the final day of a Test match chasing a total, and in popular opinion, trying to save the game.
Michael Holding called it the greatest comeback victory he had seen in his life. Atherton, who was commentating alongside at the time, echoed Holding's sentiments. "In my time watching, playing and commentating on Test cricket I cannot think of a bigger upset when taking into account the low expectations for a team with a horrendous away record who had subsided to a three-day defeat only the week before," Atherton said.
A slight backdrop here would do. This was Windies' first Test win on English soil since 2000 -- a gap of 17 years and two months. Nasser Hussain was captain and Atherton was a part of the side in that game at Birmingham (oh, the irony). Chris Gayle is the only active cricketer from either side who played that Test when the West Indies beat England by an innings and 93 runs.
As many as 12 catches were dropped in this Test including the ones by Alastair Cook (Hope was dropped on 106) and Ben Stokes (Blackwood on 39) in the dying moments of the final day, perhaps to elucidate how fortuitous the victory had been as much as it was liberating.
However, for all the second-innings heroics, this match was won, in this writer's opinion, in the first innings.
Stokes' hundred was by far the only knock of recognition --Root's routine of 50s aside -- by any English batsman in the first innings and despite that knock, they could only muster 258. Brathwaite's stubborn defiance (134) and Hope's calm presence (147) at the crease were helped by a brisk 49 by Blackwood and 42 by captain Jason Holder.
As much as Moeen Ali, Dawid Malan, and Chris Woakes tried to complement Root and Stokes, a first-innings lead of 169 is something that you rarely manage to bounce back from. But Ali felt that the second innings plundering of the visitors, especially on day 4, was enough.
"We felt like their heads went down pretty quickly after tea. We were trying to go up five runs at a time and keep going, keep burying them almost, make them suffer in terms of keeping them out in the field," were Ali's words after the second-innings domination of the visitors.
Notwithstanding, chasing 322 runs, out of which 317 were to be scored on day 5, with 10 wickets in hand doesn't result in victory for the batting side on most occasions. It was a clash of two unlikely possibilities and the Windies proved that their case was the less unlikely of the two.
This win was comparable with India's come-from-behind 170-run victory over Sri Lanka in Galle, 2008, after losing the first Test in Colombo by an innings and 239 runs -- wherein Ajantha Mendis had blown them away. Also comparable was it to Australia's eight-wicket win over India in Bangalore in 1998 after being swept away by an innings and 219 runs in the previous Test of the same series.
However, purely in terms of 'low expectations for a team with a horrendous away record,' as Athers put it, India's win in the Calcutta Test of 2001 comes the closest. To quote, noted cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle had said at the time that India were 'on the brink of becoming an irrelevant Test-playing nation.' A 3-0 defeat in Australia in 1999-2000 was followed by a 2-0 humbling at home at the hands of South Africa.
The last series victory for India against a Test nation (excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) had come in '98 after the said Bangalore Test. They were humbled in the first Test by 10 wickets and were made to follow on at the Eden Gardens after being skittled for 171 in response to Australia's 445.
Here too, the possibility of winning after following on was negligible; that of Australia losing after enforcing it, laughable. Here too, India proved that their case was the less unlikely of the two.
Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman put on 376 runs for the fifth wicket, India declared on 657/7 and set Australia 384 runs to win. Australia were given a little less than a day to chase it down; Windies were given a little more. Perhaps that is where you could differentiate the two epics but in all other aspects, the story-lines were similar. There were two teams fighting for some relevance in terms of Test match cricket and were catapulted by two of their younger sepoys.
Geoffrey Boycott, who until recently would have coloured himself black only to be knighted by the Queen had the choicest of words for the Caribbeans. "This West Indies lot are the worst Test match team I have seen in more than 50 years of watching, playing and commentating on cricket. They can't bat and can't bowl," he'd said after the Edgbaston thrashing.
Perhaps it was fitting that on August 29 -- the fifth day of the Headingley Test -- in 1882, exactly 135 years ago, the Ashes was born. After what happened yesterday, Boycott might do well if he looks back at the team that lost to Australia all those years back.