This series has thankfully not gone as expected. England were strong favourites before a ball was bowled, and it looked like it would be a non-contest after their emphatic, innings victory in the First Test.
West Indies’ fightback at Headingley was fantastic for Test cricket. Its improbability was only outweighed by its brilliance, and a new West Indian cricket hero was born in Shai Hope. Test cricket was not saved by their dramatic Day Five victory, but it was refreshing, and might have given the kiss of life to a country disenchanted with the longest form of the sport.
The subject of two divisions of Test cricket will rear its head again, however. How the tourists perform at Lord’s is significant not only because it is the decisive Test in a three match series, but it will signal how much hope can be taken from this tour.
Compete, or even win the Test, and it could be the rebirth of red ball cricket in the Caribbean. Fall to another heavy defeat and the heroism at Headingley will be as good as forgotten.
There is a lot riding on this match, even before we consider how it would reflect on Joe Root should England not win this series. There are some key areas to look at before placing your bets, mind…
Mixed top order fortunes
The woe of England’s top order has been a frustrating, long-term issue. Alastair Cook’s plethora of opening partners is well-publicised, and the reliance on Cook and Root to deliver is growing greater if anything.
This Test is pivotal in the careers of Mark Stoneman and Tom Westley, who are available at a 10/1 double to both score first inning fifties. Given their struggles so far, though, a double on Cook and Root to do the same at 4/1 offers better value.
West Indies similarly saw two shine while the others fell short. Shai Hope’s two centuries in the match overshadowed the excellent Kraigg Brathwaite, who scored 229 runs at Headingley. Kyle Hope and Kieran Powell have not offered a significant score in the series between them.
Brathwaite’s 12/1 to be the top batsman in the first innings is a good one, as he has proven he can survive even the new ball onslaught of James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel were excellent at Headingley. Taking four wickets each in England’s first innings they took charge of the Test with a combination of pace and movement. Whether they can replicate that, however, is a challenge, particularly as they have to adjust to the infamous Lord’s slope.
If they can limit the run scoring opportunities for England, the two new ball bowlers have the talent to get England’s batsmen in trouble and will be aided by the conditions at Lord’s. The 13/4 price on Gabriel to be West Indies’ top bowler in the first innings is one of the best from the Third Test, especially given the weaknesses in England’s line-up.
Whoever bowls first will no doubt enjoy some lateral movement, which could also see Broad and Anderson rattle through the West Indian order. England’s greatest concern, however, is over Chris Woakes’ fitness, with the all-rounder’s pace and control far from the level expected at Headingley.
Broad – who has bowled far better than his figures suggest in this series – is at 11/2 to be the best bowler in both first innings.
England’s middle and lower order will be crucial again. Ben Stokes scored another superb hundred in the last Test, while Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes provided match-changing second innings knocks, too.
West Indies have their own lower order threats, though. Jason Holder and Jermaine Blackwood both played key roles in their victory with the bat, and Blackwood’s price of 11/2 to be West Indies’ top scorer in the first innings looks particularly good. His free flowing game is perfect should a counter-attack be necessary after damage from England with the new ball.
This match could turn on how each team capitalises once they get the other three or four wickets down. Stokes, Woakes, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen are the best lower order in the game and the visitors will set themselves up for an unlikely victory if they can limit their time at the crease.
England – Cook, Stoneman, Westley, Root, Malan, Stokes, Bairstow, Moeen, Woakes, Broad, Anderson
West Indies – Brathwaite, Powell, K. Hope, S. Hope, Chase, Blackwood, Dowrich, Holder, Bishoo, Roach, Gabriel
MATCH TIP: England to win without a first innings century @ 3/1