Intriguing Test contest provides just the ticket for Headingley
The message on Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s twitter feed yesterday was as good an indication as any of the compelling character of this Headingley Test.
A crowd of 11,573 filled the ground yesterday after the near sell-out attendances of 14,006 on day one and 13,823 on day two, and another good gate is expected today.
Throw in glorious weather and a Bank Holiday weekend, to go with the first nip-and-tuck Test of the summer, and Headingley’s 76th Test has so far surpassed expectations both in terms of cricketing interest and commercial success.
Which way the Test will go is wonderfully uncertain going into day four.
England are 171-3 in their second innings, two runs ahead, after West Indies made 427 in reply to the hosts’ 258.
Joe Root is undefeated on 45 and Dawid Malan has 21, the pair having added 77.
They built on Mark Stoneman’s maiden Test fifty as England eradicated a first innings deficit of 169.
The tone for an intriguing third day was set as soon as umpire Sundaram Ravi shouted ‘play’ from the Rugby Stand end.
James Anderson took two wickets with the first two balls, having overnight centurion Shai Hope caught behind and Shane Dowrich taken at second slip by Root.
Jason Holder successfully kept out the hat-trick delivery, pushing it out to cover.
It should have been three wickets in the first eight balls but Moeen Ali shelled a sitter when Jermaine Blackwood mowed Stuart Broad to mid-on.
It was a miss that burst England’s early bubble, Blackwood and Holder making them pay with a 75-run stand in 15 overs.
Holder played arguably the shot of the match when he cover-drove Broad to the North-East Stand boundary and then held the pose for effect, inviting photographers to preserve the moment.
Moeen made amends of sorts when Holder lofted Chris Woakes to mid-off, the fielder tracking back and judging the catch nicely over his shoulder.
Holder’s departure for 43 from 54 balls was followed five balls later by that of Blackwood for 49, the batsman running himself out going for a third leg-bye when a delivery from Moeen ran away off Kemar Roach’s pads.
Moeen should have had his first wicket to finish the West Indies’ innings at 406 only for Stoneman to spill Shannon Gabriel on nought at short-leg.
The tourists were finally dismissed on lunch, Ben Stokes pinning Gabriel to finish with 2-63, Anderson the pick of the attack with 5-76.
After the mayhem of the morning, with the entertainment as splendid as the late August sunshine, the afternoon reverted to more traditional Test match fare.
Stoneman and Alastair Cook shared an opening stand of 58 in 22 overs, ended when Cook edged Holder to wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich, and Stoneman played some handsome strokes along the way, including three off-side fours in an over off Roach.
The Surrey man dislocated his left little finger when he was struck by a delivery from Holder when on 35, the physio putting the injured digit back in place.
Stoneman was then involved in a calamitous mix-up with Westley, which should have seen the latter run-out at the bowler’s end.
When Stoneman cover-drove leg-spinner Davendra Bishoo out towards the East Stand, Westley dithered over a second run, but Gabriel’s throw was too wide of Bishoo, who then missed from close-range with Westley stranded.
Not that Westley made the most of his reprieve; with just eight runs to his name, he went after a wide one from Holder and was caught behind, his place in the team yet to be cemented.
Moments after going to a 107-ball half-century, Stoneman was bowled by Gabriel, who was so close to over-stepping the no-ball line that even television replays appeared inconclusive.
On such moments are Test matches decided and Test careers determined, the only conclusive detail being that it left England 94-3, still 75 behind.
It might have become 98-4, with replays also appearing to show that Malan feathered a catch to Dowrich off Gabriel when he had four.
It certainly should have been 106-4, but Root was reprieved in the gully on 10 by Kyle Hope, who spilled a head-high opportunity off Roach.
Both sides have dropped some vital chances in this match, some of which would not have looked out of place on the village green.
The big question is: whose will prove more costly?
Stokes is one disciplinary point away from a ban after being found guilty of breaching the International Cricket Council’s code of conduct.
The England all-rounder was penalised for making an “inappropriate comment” after Shai Hope edged him for a boundary in the West Indies innings.
Stokes has three demerit points under the ICC’s disciplinary code. If a player reaches four or more demerit points within a two-year period, those points are converted into suspension points.