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West Indies vs England, Third Test preview: Getting Brathwaite out will be key for visitors
The Men in Maroon have frustrated the visitors in the series so far with the two opening Tests ending in a draw – can one of the two sides make the breakthrough in the third and final showdown?
After a fortnight of hard-fought cricket, it all comes down to this on Thursday as England travel to Grenada for the third Test against the West Indies with all results still on the line.
Despite two draws from the opening pair of Tests, both sides have experienced periods of success throughout the series; the West Indies reduced the visitors to 48-4 in the first innings of the first Test while England looked for a short while as though they might pull off the unthinkable in skittling the hosts on the fifth day of the second Test.
However, neither side has yet been able to translate those fleeting moments of superiority into match-defining supremacy, leaving everything to play for as the tour heads for the ‘Spice Isle’ this week.
If any stat defines the series so far, it is the fact that home skipper Kraigg Brathwaite faced more balls in the second Test than any other West Indian in history (673).
The 29-year-old, who has averaged just over 100 in the series so far, has battled, blocked and stifled England’s bowlers throughout the tour, showing incredible mental resilience to do so even as those around him in the top order have faltered.
His iron will and cool temperament was arguably the difference-maker during an onslaught from the England bowling attack on day five in Barbados and he’ll be seeking to win the war of attrition when he strides out into the middle once again this week.
While much was made over England’s omission of red-ball wizards Stuart Broad and James Anderson for this tour of the Caribbean, it appears as though the bowlers whose absences have been most keenly felt are the contingent of injury-plagued pacemen unavailable for selection.
From Jofra Archer to Olly Stone and now Mark Wood, who was ruled out of the rest of the series – and a lucrative IPL contract – after picking up an elbow injury in the first innings of the first Test, England’s rotten luck with quicks, which was evident in Australia, remains troublesome now.
True pace would have been a real weapon for England to call upon on such uninspiring pitches – and while the rapid Saqib Mahmood showed glimpses of his potential last time out, captain Joe Root has been forced to rely on the likes of Chris Woakes, Craig Overton and debutant Matt Fisher, all of whom seem incompatible with bowling conditions abroad.
Lancashire leg spinner Matt Parkinson might be one man to whom Root turns in search of magic in the last game, with the 25-year-old champing at the bit to make his Test debut after two tours spent mixing drinks on the boundary so far.
Parkinson’s selection has been an ongoing debate among England fans over the past year, with opinion largely divided on whether his unique, flighty deliveries have enough pace to trouble batsman on the Test circuit.
But what better time to find out given England’s struggles with the ball so far?
In the aftermath of the weekend’s draw, Root admitted his side could have been “braver” on their hunt for victory – a sign that the 31-year-old may take a more aggressive approach in Grenada, perhaps?
That would rely on England’s run-scorers remaining in fine touch, as they have largely done throughout the two Tests so far.
Root (284) himself is second only to Brathwaite for runs scored in the series; Brathwaite, meanwhile, is the only West Indian batsman inside the top five, with Jonny Bairstow, Dan Lawrence and Ben Stokes all enjoying an impressive tour with the bat so far.
The luxury of runs on the board has not been something England have been used to over the past few years but if Root, Stokes et al. strike up another big total, it would be a shame to see the Three Lions waste another opportunity with a passive display in the field.
England must find an answer to Brathwaite’s resolute magnificence – but if they can finally crack the West Indies captain cheaply, confidence will be high that they can secure that much-needed Test victory.
Watch West Indies vs England in the third Test, exclusively live on BT Sport 1 HD from 1pm this Thursday.