View from the Pavilion End: Day Two, Trent Bridge
West Indies gambled on playing the extra batsmen, leaving their bowlers badly exposed
There was probably little West Indies could have done to hold back England’s world-class batsmen, but the selection of only three frontline bowlers - one of whom was an inexperienced spinner - was a gamble which backfired.
England were able to target the weaker bowlers and Andrew Strauss (102*), who made his 21st Test hundred, and Kevin Pietersen (72*) wreaked havoc in the evening session, forging an undefeated stand of 136 to take England to 259-2, with the prospect of a big first-innings lead.
West Indies have had so many problems on this tour with their top-order batting that they no doubt felt compelled to field a long batting line-up at the cost of a bowler. But this was the wrong way to gamble.
There is always the chance of a couple of batsmen making big scores, as has happened here, but lack of bowling resources has made the West Indies sitting ducks once the shine leaves the new ball.
England were well aware of this fatal weakness. At Lord’s last week West Indies had England on the ropes at 57-4, but could not administer the knock-out blow.
This was a slightly different attack, with Ravi Rampaul replacing Fidel Edwards and the offspinner Shane Shillingford coming in for the injured Gabriel. But it was just as vulnerable.
England were respectful against Roach and Rampaul, who went at little more than two an over, but attacked mercilessly against Sammy - surely one of the weakest third seamers in Test cricket - and Shillingford. Both men conceded nearly five runs an over.
In his eighth Test match, Shillingford was under a lot of pressure and Pietersen added to it by dancing down the pitch immediately and launching him high into the stands for six. Strauss, full of confidence after last week’s ton, scored freely against the offspinner in the evening as West Indies lost control.
But Shillingford showed enough to suggest he can be a fine performer at this level. He has a high arm action, and will extract bounce and turn on less flat pitches. These were hard conditions to bowl in and he didn’t panic.
A bigger problem was the poor bowling of Sammy. On a high after making his first Test hundred (106) Sammy plummeted to earth when Pietersen thumped him all over Trent Bridge. His lack of pace on this wonderful batting pitch left him helpless against England’s world-class players.
Sammy was billed as a third seamer, but already had the look of a part-timer. Ironically, Marlon Samuels in five overs of part-time spin offered more control, although he suffered the indignity of seeing Pietersen play the Dilshan Scoop for four over the keeper’s head. It is a safe bet this was a first in Test match cricket.
Selection is a difficult art and West Indies are not blessed with alternatives, but the inclusion of Fidel Edwards, who bowled without luck at Lord’s, would have provided more firepower.
England’s own selection of Tim Bresnan has been criticised in some quarters. Bresnan has been steady in the first two games of the summer, but the exciting talent of Stephen Finn waits in the wings.
Bresnan, however, did his cause no harm by picking up three of the last four West Indies wickets to fall in the morning to leave him with figures of 4-104. As Broad and Anderson tired in the sun, their speeds dropped to around 80mph each, but Bresnan remained strong and purposeful. The bumper which forced an erroneous pull from Sammy was the kind of heavy ball which this strong man can summon even after punishingly long spells.
England like the combination of qualities Bresnan brings to the side. He can play the role of “enforcer” with his well-directed bouncers, bowl reverse-swing with the old ball, and be a willing workhorse while the headline acts – Broad and Anderson – take a rest.
A few more wickets in the second innings will secure Bresnan’s place for Edgbaston, giving him every chance of being the man in possession come the South Africa series.