West Indies opened their three match test series against England with a four-wicket victory at the Ageas Bowl.
England never recovered from conceding a first innings lead on a pitch that was expected to get harder to bat on.
On the opening morning of International cricket on a truncated day it was England who won the toss. Rather surprisingly -considering the cloudy overcast conditions suitable for bowling- the hosts decided to bat.
It was always going to be a tough call for Ben Stokes who was captain just for this one match.
England soon lost opener Dom Sibley for nought and were deep in trouble at 87 for 5.
It was Captain Stokes to the rescue with the skipper sharing a sixth wicket partnership of 67 with Joss Buttler. After Buttler went it was down to the captain to see England to a total of 204. The home side were helped by a diligent 31 from off spinner Dom Bess to post a below par total.
The West Indians bowling unit was right on the money with captain Jason holder taking 6-42. He was ably supported by the excellent Shannon Gabriel who claimed 4-62.
West Indies Reply
As the weather improved and batting was made easier the West Indies replied with 318. Shane Dowrich top scoring with 61 and Roston Chase 47. England’s bowling struggled with Stokes the pick of the attack with 4-49.
Starting their second innings 114 behind England needed a good start which they got through Rory Burns and Sibley. The openers put on 72 before Burns went for 42.
England were indebted to Stokes and Kent’s Zak Crawley who added 98 for the fourth wicket. Crawley went on to hit 76 and with some late hitting from Jofra Archer England were bowled out for 313.
Once again it was Gabriel who shone for the visitors by finishing with 5-75 to leave West Indies the tricky task of 200 to win.
The visitors were soon in trouble having slumped to 27-3. However, this West Indian side are a useful unit when their backs are to the wall.
A partnership of 73 for the fourth wicket rescued the visitors with Chase making 37.
It was down to a patient innings from Jermaine Blackwood of 95 to see the visitors within touching distance of victory.
When he fell with just eleven needed for victory England fancied their chances of a win. Captain Jason Holder had other ideas and was there at the crease with John Campbell to see W.I home.
Overall, this was a wonderful test match. Despite no fans in the ground, the atmosphere was tense on the final day.
West Indies deserved their victory over England. Better side all around this team are made of stern stuff. Captained brilliantly by Holder they outplayed England in all departments.
England will look back and rue their decision to bat first and possibly the decision not to play Stuart Broad.
But what cost England in this test match was their failure to take catches at key times.
They will also look back on a couple of run out chances they didn’t take and wickets of no balls.
But for the sake of the game the W.I need a huge amount of praise for wanting to come over to play.
Others did not but they did. And I amongst a lot of people are so glad that they did.
So on to the next test which starts at Old Trafford Manchester on Thursday. England have it all to do and must hit back with a win otherwise the series will be lost.
For England they have a difficult decision to make. Who will get left out for the return of Joe Root?
Joe Denly’s place very much looks in danger after another test where he failed to convert a big score.
Roll on Thursday. It is great to have the wonderful game of cricket back with us once again.