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
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.