Black­wood fi­nally de­liv­ers on vow to spend more time in the mid­dle

 Bats­man sheds rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a hot head by de­fy­ing Eng­land’s attack and guid­ing West Indies to brink of vic­tory

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Tim Wig­more

At Head­in­g­ley three years ago, Jer­maine Black­wood tried to hit the win­ning runs in West Indies’ fa­mous vic­tory. With the West Indies two runs from vic­tory, Black­wood – not even wear­ing a cap – charged Moeen Ali, har­ing down the pitch like a man rac­ing for the last su­per­mar­ket loo roll.

Black­wood missed the ball com­pletely, scarcely even both­er­ing to check that he was stumped.

In many ways, this in­nings summed up Black­wood the Test crick­eter. Al­though he ar­rived with run rate no is­sue in the West Indies’ chase at Leeds, he promptly slogswept his sev­enth ball for four. Then, when James An­der­son was bowl­ing the sec­ond de­liv­ery with the sec­ond new ball, Black­wood had the chutz­pah to back away, ex­pos­ing all three of his stumps, and then mow him straight over his head for six. A few overs later, Black­wood up­per­cut Stu­art Broad for six.

It was ex­hil­a­rat­ing bats­man­ship, but Black­wood’s 41 never hinted at per­ma­nence or a re­li­able Test crick­eter. When he mus­tered just 15 runs in his next five in­nings, he was dropped. And with an av­er­age of just 30.09, de­spite bat­ting in the mid­dle or­der and be­ing shielded from the new ball, he could hardly com­plain. His harum-scarum ap­proach was frit­ter­ing away the tal­ent he had dis­played when, aged just 23, he scored his first – and only – Test century, against Eng­land five years ago.

Af­ter three years that yielded only a soli­tary Test ap­pear­ance – as a con­cus­sion sub­sti­tute against In­dia last Au­gust – the with­drawals of Dar­ren Bravo and Shim­ron Het­myer from the tour squad handed Black­wood a new op­por­tu­nity. He had earned it, scor­ing more runs than any­one else in the Caribbean do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion, hit­ting a half-century in seven of the eight games, in­clud­ing 248 in his last match, in March.

He re­turned to Eng­land claim­ing to be a new man. “It’s about pa­tience for me, spend­ing lots of time in the mid­dle,” he de­clared. “That’s the new way go­ing for­ward for me, just to bat as long as possible.”

The new way lasted all of 22 balls, be­fore Black­wood drilled Dom Bess to mid-off. The cur­rency of toporder Test wick­ets has sel­dom been so de­val­ued; even Bess de­scribed it as a “rogue dis­missal”.

So when Black­wood walked out with the West Indies a calami­tous 27 for three, he did not merely have a Test match to try to win, he also had a rep­u­ta­tion to sal­vage.

“I didn’t need to speak to Jer­maine see­ing how he got out in the first in­nings. He knew what he had done wrong,” said his cap­tain, Ja­son Holder. “And he knew that he’s a bet­ter player than what he did in the first in­nings, so there was no need to talk to him.”

But be­fore Black­wood’s sec­ond in­nings, Holder did ut­ter a few words. “I just said to Jer­maine, ‘Look, just give your­self a chat. Give your­self a good chance – see a few balls and then play your game.’”

Eng­land hoped that Black­wood would not give him­self a chance.

For all the dam­age be­ing wrought by pace, as soon as Black­wood came out, Ben Stokes brought on Bess, hop­ing that Black­wood would re­peat his first-in­nings im­petu­os­ity. But the first time Black­wood faced Bess, he calmly played out a maiden. And it took him un­til his 25th ball – which he ca­ressed through the cov­ers, all along the

Jos But­tler (above top) dropped a catch off Ben Stokes down the leg side in the 27th over with the bats­man on 20 be­fore a mix-up with Ros­ton Chase might have had

Black­wood (then on 29) run out if Zak Craw­ley had not fum­bled at ex­tra cover (above). Rory Burns dropped Black­wood (29) at gully off Stokes but it would have been ruled a no ball.

Kick­ing on: Jer­maine Black­wood took a sig­nif­i­cant ca­reer step at the Ageas Bowl

ground – to hit his first boundary. Black­wood the Test crick­eter 1.0 was a thrilling bats­man, but one whose gung-ho style was im­mune to the sit­u­a­tion.

The dif­fer­ence at the Ageas Bowl was how – with a dol­lop of luck, it is true – he adapted as the game around him changed. His power and qual­ity of shot-mak­ing are such that Black­wood can be se­lec­tive in which balls he chooses to attack and still score at a rapid rate.

Only when he had 61 did Black­wood un­furl his first real act of vi­o­lence, clear­ing his front leg and launch­ing An­der­son over his head. Be­fore Shane Dowrich’s dis­missal, he had the air of a man who could win the Test in the next five overs. But Black­wood then recog­nised that Eng­land’s last chance rested on dis­miss­ing him quickly and re­verted to un­ob­tru­sive ac­cu­mu­la­tion, tak­ing an­other 16 balls be­fore his next boundary.

By that point, the West Indies’ heist was in sight.

Just like at Head­in­g­ley, Black­wood did not quite make it to the mo­ment of Caribbean glory. Only this time, he had done more than any­one else to author a bril­liant run chase.

No vis­it­ing player bat­ting at six or lower had ever even made a 50 in a vic­to­ri­ous Test chase in Eng­land; even miss­ing the five runs he needed for a century, Black­wood was five-star. And if this performanc­e her­alds what is to come for Black­wood 2.0, the West Indies will not be lack­ing for more Test vic­to­ries to toast.

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