Root ready to in­spire fight­back to pro­tect un­beaten home run

Cap­tain re­turns to Test side at venue where he av­er­ages 85 West Indies seek first Test se­ries win in Eng­land since 1988

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Cricket -

The gap­ing hole at Emi­rates Old Traf­ford where the gi­gan­tic “party stand” is erected every sum­mer of­fers a stark re­minder that we are liv­ing in dif­fer­ent times.

West Indies will have the op­por­tu­nity this week to show we are en­ter­ing a new era on the field, too, as they chase their first Test se­ries win in Eng­land since 1988 and any­where in the world against topqual­ity op­po­si­tion (in other words, not Zim­babwe, or Bangladesh be­fore they im­proved) for a quar­ter of a cen­tury.

Joe Root re­turns to cap­tain Eng­land look­ing to avert their first home Test se­ries de­feat since the loss to Sri Lanka in 2014 that nearly pre­cip­i­tated Alas­tair Cook’s res­ig­na­tion as cap­tain.

Eng­land are on an un­beaten run of 11 se­ries and Root will press ahead to the next Ashes in 2021-22 re­gard­less of this re­sult. His re­turn in­creases Eng­land’s chances of lev­el­ling the se­ries at a ground where he av­er­ages 85 and made his high­est Test score. But Eng­land have to level mat­ters against a team bet­ter pre­pared than them, par­tic­u­larly Root, who did not play in the in­trasquad warm-up and has not bat­ted in the mid­dle since March 13. West Indies spent al­most a month train­ing in Manch­ester be­fore the se­ries, and played two prac­tice matches on the ground, so are bet­ter versed with the con­di­tions.

Eng­land have had only an in­com­plete net ses­sion out­doors since ar­riv­ing in Manch­ester on Mon­day. They were not happy with one of the net pitches on Tues­day af­ter a ball reared up off a length from Jofra Archer to Ben Stokes, and so moved in­doors. Then it rained all morn­ing yes­ter­day, forc­ing them back to the in­door school again.

They twice de­layed nam­ing their squad, giv­ing a gen­eral sense of un­cer­tainty over their think­ing be­fore an­nounc­ing that James An­der­son and Mark Wood would be rested. Stu­art Broad re­turns and with a cloudy day fore­cast to­day both sides will prob­a­bly look to bowl first. The wet weather in Manch­ester has damp­ened the pitch and is ex­pected to have taken some of the usual sting out of it, so Wood and his ex­tra pace will be missed. Chris Woakes will add depth to the bat­ting and is likely to be the third of three changes, the other be­ing Root for Joe Denly.

West Indies cap­tain Ja­son Holder and head coach Phil Sim­mons have been keep­ing their play­ers’ feet on the ground since the win at the Ageas Bowl, but also en­joy­ing the ac­claim back home. On Tues­day night, Holder was on a ra­dio show in Bar­ba­dos along with prime min­is­ters from three is­lands, show­ing how united the re­gion is be­hind the cap­tain. “The reception we’ve got, not only from the heads of gov­ern­ment but the peo­ple of the Caribbean, has been tremen­dous,” said Holder. “This Covid pe­riod has put a damp­ener on things for the world, and things like cricket, es­pe­cially in the Caribbean, unify.”

Holder has con­structed a team in his own image, helped, ac­cord­ing to his friend Car­los Brath­waite, by mov­ing on from the stars – such as Chris Gayle – who had so many runins with the West Indies board and had lost their pas­sion for Test cricket. Holder can­not be un­der­mined by play­ers more se­nior than him any more and has sur­rounded him­self with a group who grad­u­ated to­gether from the West Indies academy and are com­mit­ted to Test cricket. The un­usual cir­cum­stances of this tour have played into their hands. By hav­ing ex­tra re­serves in case of a Covid out­break they were able to draft Shannon Gabriel in as a spare bowler. They were then able to pro­mote him when he proved his fit­ness in the Manch­ester train­ing camp, and he re­sponded with nine wick­ets and a man-of-the-match per­for­mance in the first Test.

The ex­panded squad and iso­lated liv­ing con­di­tions have en­abled Holder and Sim­mons to work with fringe play­ers, giv­ing them a clear idea of what they ex­pect from Test play­ers. Gabriel should play again this week, with West Indies ex­pected to name the same XI.

His­tory is on their side: only once since 2008 has a team come back to win af­ter los­ing the first Test of a three-match se­ries, and it has hap­pened just eight times this cen­tury. The bad news for West Indies is that one of those oc­ca­sions was in 2007, the last time they went 1-0 up in an away se­ries.

Ben Stokes hands over to Root af­ter be­com­ing the first Eng­land cap­tain to lose his first Test since Michael Vaughan 17 years ago. There are shades of Vaughan about Stokes, par­tic­u­larly his as­tute man­man­age­ment skills. He spent time with Broad the night he was told he was dropped and his arm around Archer as the teams took the field on the fi­nal day was no­tice­able. Archer re­sponded with his best spell for nearly a year.

Denly’s Test ca­reer is over, with no re­al­is­tic way back for a 34-yearold left out af­ter 15 matches. Root was gen­er­ous in his praise but it is time to move on, with Zak Craw­ley bat­ting at three.

There is al­ways a player un­der pres­sure. It moves on ro­ta­tion through the team. Now it is Jos But­tler who needs a good match on his home ground.

Ed Smith backed Denly and But­tler to be Test play­ers, so he, too, will be anx­ious this week. Smith plucked But­tler out of the In­dian Pre­mier League in 2018, say­ing: “Jos play­ing his way has the po­ten­tial to be a re­ally pos­i­tive force.” It is time for that force to come good.

By Nick Hoult

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