England’s hopes of banishing their post-Ashes blues in Antigua got off to a rocky start as the West Indies reduced a reworked top order to 57 for four on the first morning of the first Test.
Exactly seven weeks since they concluded a miserable tour of Australia with the latest in a string of batting collapses in Hobart, Joe Root led a much-changed side into some familiar trouble at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. The much-discussed ‘red ball reset’ was off to a slow start.
Kemar Roach landed two major blows, dismissing debutant opener Alex Lees for just four to continue England’s travails at the head of the innings before clean bowling Root for 13 offering no shot.
Zak Crawley and Dan Lawrence also failed to hold the fort as the home attack produced a stirring effort, leaving Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow to rebuild.
Root had the advantage of a winning the toss on what looked a reasonable batting track, but England’s struggles to post big totals are deep-set.
An England XI showing six changes from their previous outing joined their opponents in wearing black armbands, with Shane Warne, Rod Marsh and Sonny Ramadhin remembered, and both teams took a knee before the first ball.
Lees got off the mark with a boundary from his fifth ball in international cricket, squirting to third man, but that was as good as it got for the left-hander. Roach set him up with a sequence of away swingers then brought one back in to win an lbw.
It was a high-class lesson for the newcomer, and an early setback for his side. Crawley had started with a glorious on drive for four and a punch through the covers but his stay was short and sweet.
Aiming a lavish drive at 20-year-old Jayden Seales, he allowed the bat to turn in his hands and sent an inside-edge through to the alert keeper Josh Da Silva.
Root’s move back up to number three – aimed at bringing solidity to the line-up – did not go to plan, arriving far earlier than he would have liked and leaving in similar haste. He survived a chance when he flashed Roach through Jermaine Blackwood’s dive in the cordon, only to lose his off bail to a magnificent display of precision bowling from the Bajan.
Withdrawing his bat after his previous temptation, he saw the ball zip back in the perfect amount. Root needed to check behind him to confirm his fate, whole Roach stood motionless at the top of his follow through, basking in the moment.
Jason Holder took care of Dan Lawrence, who made a busy 20 before nicking to Blackwood, and did not concede a single run from his five overs.
Stokes and Bairstow ensured no further losses, but took just 10 runs from a combined 74 deliveries.