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Jack Leach and Saqib Mahmood’s unexpected batting brilliance saves day one for England

Of all the absurdity England men’s test have served over the past few years, it’s hard to think of many that come close to this. There was, of course, the bad and the ugly: reduced to 67-7 on the first day of this third Test in Grenade by West Indies, then bypassing the drain on 114-9. But thanks to the unexpected good of their two top scorers, number 10 Jack Leaching (41) and number 11 Saqib Mahmoud (49), they find themselves in a working position.

West Indies finally finished the job, eliminating the tourists for 204 in Thursday’s final. But by then they had been stripped of the joy of their earlier brilliance, with a final wicket of 90.

For Headingley ’19 sidekick Leach, the night watchman who played 92 against Ireland in the same year, there were the familiarities of dogged defending and a propensity to drive. However, at the other end, Mahmood, with a first-class average of 12 and a previous record of 34 against the red ball, it was out of the blue. The 25-year-old was the latest to fall, sorely short of a first half-century in all forms of professional cricket.

The 218 balls met was recorded as one of the longest stays for a tenth wicket in England since Joe Root and James Anderson faced 320 deliveries against India at Trent Bridge in the summer of 2014. Unlike this time, this ground is far from being a slag heap. After two boring stalemates, this one will produce a result in this winner-takes-all encounter. And, quietly, England could now imagine their chances after apparently being dead and buried in the room earlier.

The wicket procession was sparked by a pair of wickets for Kyle Mayers, with the all-rounder making his first appearance in this series for his 11and cap. You may remember his remarkable shot just over a year ago: 210 on his Test debut to see the West Indies cross the line in a 395 pursuit in Bangladesh. It’s been his bowling that’s been the talk since then, and there was plenty to cry about as he clipped England skipper Joe Root for a nine-ball duck, nine deliveries after knocking out Zak Crawley in a flurry of five on which he did not concede a race. He left the field before lunch with a hamstring injury but was not required in the afternoon session when his fellow tailors regrouped to take 5-68.

Even though those test conditions vindicated Kraigg Brathwaite’s decision to play first after winning the coin toss, England batters may be pondering a clown car of loose hits. Crawley (23-1) got us started with a tame chip to cover. Dan Lawrence (46-3) fell to the full side and was pinned in front of the three. Stokes (53-4) was comically late on a shot, laying it back to Alzarri Joseph – the first of the three to fall for the draw add-on. Alex Lees – the second of this trio – looked for a stump on the outside, as did third, Jonny Bairstow. Ben Foakes (67-7) probably should have expected a delivery from Jayden Seales who rushed through his door and disturbed the stumps. Craig Overton (90-8) played down the wrong line, though credit goes to Roach for summoning such an outlandish move to take a ball from the outside and into… the stump.

Ben Stokes was cheaply kidnapped by the West Indies

(Action images via Reuters)

Chris Woakes and Leach stemmed the tide, the latter deploying a cover campaign to bring England to 101-8 to at least ensure it wasn’t another double-digit capitulation. The pair held on, managing to take the tea at 114-8. No big jolts but with the possibility of adding sine the necessary shopping in the evening.

It was a plan that only lasted two bullets: Seales yorking Woakes (25) immediately after the break, ending their partnership of 24 which, dishearteningly, was England’s highest at the time. It was enhanced with the final fight between Leach and Mahmood.

Their method was simple and aided by an older ball and tired bowlers: occupy the crease, keep everything out of the way, and throw hands at anything with a hint of width. They became more confident, gradually running errands with more comfort. Particularly Mahmood, who looked as confident as he ever has against a red ball.

Along with that new career high was a front six, crashed high over wide mid after a bit of a charge. And Lancashire quickly registered the 200 team with a fine out of practice for one of their five limits. In the final, he instructed Jermaine Blackwood to hit the ground for a fourball. Then, on the 49, he tried to hit a wide ball too hard to pass a half-virgin, instead playing on his own stumps.

Jack Leach and Saqib Mahmood saved the day for England

(AFP via Getty Images)

The celebrations around him were more of a relief than anything, as the innings finally closed in the 90and and last lesson of the day. West Indies’ frustration was still evident as they walked away, especially given the opportunities they had to see one of the latter two. Leach was dropped on the first slip when he was just 10, which would have made it 110-9. Mahmood should have been caught by John Campbell to close the innings at 149.

The first dropper and the second pitcher was Mayers. A day that started with his exuberant celebration ended with a lot of regret for him. Moreover, England will breathe a sigh of relief because somehow they still finish the first day of this game. Considering the lavish movement throughout the day that should be replicated on Friday, they may be about even.

Jack Leach and Saqib Mahmood’s unexpected batting brilliance saves day one for England

Source link Jack Leach and Saqib Mahmood’s unexpected batting brilliance saves day one for England

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