Sibley and Stokes knuckle down to restore order on day of chaos
Opener hits unbeaten 86 as England reach 207 for three West Indies pace attack looks jaded and fails to seize control
Dom Sibley provided the calming influence England badly needed on a chaotic day as West Indies wasted an opportunity to seize hold of this match and the series.
The England players woke to a text message summoning them to a team meeting to be told that Jofra Archer had been put in solitary confinement and their plans for this match ripped up at the last minute.
What they needed was a solid batting display in difficult conditions to steady nerves and refocus on beating West Indies and levelling the series.
In Sibley they have an opening batsman who will never inspire crowds to rush to take their seats for ball one of the day, and if there had been a crowd at the ground yesterday most of them would have spent it in the beer tent and drifted away early, but his unbeaten 86 from 253 balls over the course of six hours was just what his team needed, guiding them to 207 for three.
He has a very limited range of strokes, an open, ugly stance and scores so heavily on the leg side that at one stage West Indies barely bothered defending it when the offspinner was turning it into his pads, stationing three men, one in the deep, at midwicket.
But Sibley has focus and the drive to succeed, proving to England during lockdown he could improve his lifestyle by losing nearly two stones in weight to prepare for the summer. He showed the same application out in the middle to resist temptation to make his second successive fifty. He had luck, too, and was twice dropped, but was patient and has set it up for the middle order to attack today.
He was partnered by Ben Stokes, 59 not out, in an unbroken fourthwicket stand of 126 and the latter was equally disciplined. He gave away his wicket twice in the first Test but this time he showed better control and has the option today of going on the offensive, as England have plenty of batting in the side with Sam Curran and Chris Woakes two of four changes to the side beaten in Southampton. West Indies wasted the new ball, their attack leader Shannon Gabriel was only half fit and they were flat in the field, dropping Sibley on 44 and 68.
With England in turmoil yesterday, Australia would have crushed them, but West Indies let it slip.
Light rain delayed the start and the clouds convinced both captains to bowl if they won the toss despite teams opting to bat first in every Test at Old Trafford since 1993. The pitch will turn as it wears but both Jason Holder and Joe Root believed wickets in cloudy conditions with the new ball on day one offered their best hope. England’s changes, at least, would have given Root a fresh attack. But West Indies remained unchanged and their bowlers were weary. With the first session reduced to an hour and the light gloomy, it was a perfect time to be bowling but there were too many poor balls from all seamers.
Holder turned to Roston Chase for the obligatory one over of spin to run the clock down before lunch. It was almost an admission of failure that he had to summon the offspinner in the first session of the match with the floodlights on.
Rory Burns has developed a
habit of getting in but not staying around long enough to influence the match. He played for too much turn against Chase and was beaten by a ball that straightened. Wasting a review compounded the error.
Zak Crawley’s dismissal was the doziest thing done by an England player yesterday not called Archer. Holder positioned himself at leg slip for the first ball after lunch and Crawley graciously obliged by guiding the ball straight into his hands to put Chase on a hat-trick.
Facing a hat-trick ball was not ideal for Root in his first innings for more than four months. He played sketchily and tried too hard to force the pace while Sibley sleepwalked at the other end. England were getting on top and when Gabriel went off for treatment on his thigh, they had a chance to really press the advantage but Root drove hard at a wide ball from Alzarri Joseph that Holder held at second slip.
West Indies did not attack Sibley enough with the short ball. He was patient to wait for the straight delivery that he could work on to the leg side and his efforts were appreciated by Root who banged on the dressing room window when he reached his half-century off 164 balls with two fours, both scored through third man. Root does not care that Sibley chugs along, here at one an over, like a driver content to sit in the middle lane.
It is a test of a player’s patience to bat with Sibley because strokemakers like Stokes and Root have to accept they will spend a long time at the non-striker’s end. It could be why Root played such a loose shot but Stokes can be measured and he chose his moments to attack.
He struck Chase down the ground for six and used the slog sweep, a risky shot against a spinner on a bouncy Old Trafford pitch, to add urgency to the innings.
They crept up to a fifty stand off 156 balls thanks to Sibley being dropped at short leg off Chase, and on 68, a much more straightforward chance by Holder at second slip off Gabriel. He was so incensed he lost his line in his next over and bowled a wide to second slip, which at least Holder caught this time.
Close call: Dom Sibley makes his ground despite the best efforts of West Indies wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich