Bracey pushes claims for England call with 85 in ‘strange’ new world
Unheralded batsman-keeper has top-three Test potential Anderson shrugs off slow start after injury to show he is back
England’s unique summer began with an unfamiliar name thriving, as James Bracey’s 85 furthered his Test credentials during the intrasquad warm-up game at the Ageas Bowl. “I’m delighted,” the lefthander said after his innings helped Jos Buttler’s team close on 287 for five at a deserted ground. “It was a great opportunity to get out there against the new ball and sort of show them what I’ve got.”
But Bracey admitted the atmosphere was “strange” without any crowd, and said that players had suggested measures – such as crowd noise and music being played between overs – to try to replicate the normal buzz of an international match when the first Test begins next Wednesday.
“Some of the lads just made a few comments, trying to think of a couple of ideas that might liven it up a bit. It was very, very quiet and, obviously, strange for all of us, especially when you associate what we’re doing with Test cricket – it’s not the first thought that comes to mind. But you know we’ll deal with it and hopefully at some point we’ll get that together atmosphere back.
“There are a couple of suggestions like the football getting the crowd noise and that sort of stuff, and maybe a bit of music in between overs. It might be more associated with one-day cricket, but at this time it might be useful to create that for us people in the ground – not a huge amount, but hopefully the ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board] at some point, and Cricket West Indies can come up with something that might help.” Bracey is one of four wicketkeepers in England’s 30-man squad, alongside Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Foakes, but at this stage it is his compact batting that is of most interest. He regularly bats at three for Gloucestershire and has developed a game built around a robust defence and solid accumulation that England believe could be well suited to the top three in the Test arena.
“I haven’t opened up a huge amount in the last couple of years, I’ve been in around that top three, but a lot of people wouldn’t have seen me as playing that role, so it’s really nice to repay some faith and show them that, you know, I’ve got the capability to do that job,” Bracey said. “I’m not getting too ahead of myself, but just keep
working hard and hopefully at some point I might feature.”
He was particularly pleased with how he survived several spells from England’s leading Test wicket-taker James Anderson. “There was a long spell from Jimmy at the start of the day and through the middle as well, so it’s really nice to be able to combat one of the world’s best and know I’ve got the capabilities to get through those tough periods.”
Craig Overton bowled a testing spell as first change to further his case to be included in the truncated squad, of 20-22 players, that will be selected on Saturday. Overton’s twin brother Jamie was originally not due to play, but strangled Bracey down the leg side after Olly Stone’s hamstring complaint allowed him to feature in the game.
Anderson, bowling in a match for the first time since suffering a rib injury while taking seven wickets in England’s win in Cape Town in January, did not locate his normal unerring line and length with the new ball. But he was notably more threatening when he returned later in the day, seaming a ball back in to trap Joe Denly lbw for 48 and claiming the enterprising Dan Lawrence, caught at short midwicket with the second new ball.
While the shape of Denly’s innings was familiar – he faced over 100 balls, as he has done in nine of his past 15 Test innings, but again failed to make a match-defining score – it a probably ensured his place in the line-up for the first Test, where he is likely to bat at four beneath Dom Sibley, Rory Burns and Zak Crawley.
With the first Test in mind, perhaps it was revealing that Moeen Ali was used sparingly – he did not get a bowl until the 69th over. Jack Leach failed to press the case that he is the best spin option against the West Indies right-handers, struggling for control and being hit for a straight six by Denly. So, Dom Bess, the man “in possession”, who did not bat, bowl or field, enjoyed a good start to England’s summer.
On song: James Bracey yesterday
Finding their way: (left) Saqib Mahmood bowls four byes with the first ball of the match; (above) spaced out in the pavilion, and (right) James Anderson uses the hand sanitiser