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England relax to reap rewards of opening two days against West Indies as Joe Root scores century

The Independent logo The Independent 11/02/2019 Jonathan Liew
a baseball player holding a bat © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Test cricket can be a deceptively easy game when the pressure is off. The muscles loosen a touch, the feet move a little more freely, the scoreboard dissolves into haze. So it was for England here, who having done the hard yards on days one and two, could simply reap. And in glorious sunshine, against weary and weathered opponents, there was a rich harvest to be gathered.

For Joe Root, a 16th Test century, one that wasn’t quite gift-wrapped but certainly on special offer and placed temptingly near the checkout aisle. If this was one of the less memorable of the bunch, then after a wretched series it was still a measure of his ability to cash in when the going was good. This was his third century in seven Tests, and even though his technique still looks far from watertight, he does at least seem to have developed a more clinical edge, one that bodes well for his long-term development.

For Joe Denly and Jos Buttler, half-centuries of varying significance. Buttler’s 56 was another reminder of his maturation as a middle-order batsman, his ninth Test fifty in the last year, a total no batsman in world cricket has managed to surpass. Denly, meanwhile, played a fine knock in his first Test at No3, one that certainly gives him a fighting chance of retaining his place for the start of the English summer.

Cricket - West Indies v England - Third Test - Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, St Lucia - February 11, 2019     England's Jos Buttler celebrates his 50 with Joe Root   Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs © Thomson Reuters Cricket - West Indies v England - Third Test - Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, St Lucia - February 11, 2019 England's Jos Buttler celebrates his 50 with Joe Root Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

After being dropped in the slips early in the day, Denly began to settle. You could tell he was in good nick from the sound the ball made off his bat: clean, sweet, resonant. There were a couple of beautiful straight drives off Shannon Gabriel, a positive and compact defence, an energy at the crease that translated into a very decent scoring rate. And yet he will be more aware than most that getting to three figures would have made a far more persuasive case. His dismissal for 69, caught behind trying lazily to cut Shannon Gabriel, brought an angry swish of the bat and a rueful trudge back to the dressing room. But this was a good day for him.

Better, certainly, than Keaton Jennings, whose sticky innings of 23 somehow managed both to exceed expectations and utterly underwhelm. He could count himself a touch unlucky to be bowled off his pads by Alzarri Joseph, but after the number of reprieves he has given this series, he can hardly plead misfortune. Alas, his time appears to be up for now: Jennings looks in desperate need of a break, a reset, and a return to Lancashire in the spring, where he can get his confidence back in Division Two and work on his mobility at the crease.

Cricket - West Indies v England - Third Test - Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, St Lucia - February 11, 2019     England's Keaton Jennings is bowled out by West Indies' Alzarri Joseph   Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs © Thomson Reuters Cricket - West Indies v England - Third Test - Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, St Lucia - February 11, 2019 England's Keaton Jennings is bowled out by West Indies' Alzarri Joseph Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs If Jennings’s fate seems secure, then the jury remains out on the rest of the batsmen, given the ease of the conditions and the kindliness of the depleted West Indies attack. Down to four bowlers with Keemo Paul injuring a quadricep early in the day, it was a pale fraction of the unit that has given England such discomfort over the last few weeks, as Kraigg Brathwaite and Roston Chase bowled long and innocuous spells of spin to deep-set fields. After the gargantuan feats of Barbados and Antigua, this feels like a bridge too far for the home side, bundled out cheaply on Sunday and now kept out in the field for 100 overs and counting.

a cricket player during a game: Keaton Jennings reacts after dragging on to his own stumps (Getty Images) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Keaton Jennings reacts after dragging on to his own stumps (Getty Images)

Indeed, after the loss of Denly, Root and Buttler barely looked troubled until the arrival of the second new ball an hour after team. When it finally came, Kemar Roach promptly knocked down Buttler’s off-stump with a peach: proof that this remains a dangerous attack, albeit one spread a little too thinly. The rest of the day passed largely without event, Root bringing up his 29th century for England in all formats and Ben Stokes accompanying him safely to stumps. Tuesday morning should bring another hour of accumulation, followed by a big push ahead of a likely declaration before lunch.

In a way, this easy-paced procession told us very little about whether England have fixed the holes in their leaking craft, whether their top seven will be any more resilient the next time they face world-class bowling in a pressure situation. Indeed, you might posit that England had Moeen Ali and Mark Wood to thank for their relative comfort here, despite neither man taking the field on Monday. But runs in the bank and time at the wicket are no bad thing for the confidence, and it does now look like England will depart with at least something to show for their endeavours.

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