It’s been a strange sort of series where England’s first innings in each Test has largely been irrelevant. Having won the first Test, West Indies seem to have set themselves to bat past England – however monumental the score – and then see what happens.
They’ve almost waited for the declaration and tried to render each match a second innings shoot-out. It’s a bizarre tactic and more interesting than the cricket it’s produced.
But now England have to do something, because a draw and a loss are one-and-the-same in their eyes. How can they possibly win?
A statistician might point to the scores in this match and this series and say England can’t take 10 wickets inside a day, much less defend 200 or whatever they choose to set (assuming they don’t implode). This overlooks the fact that in sport, at key moments where there’s a lot hinging on what happens, players sometimes suffer chronic meltdown and forget how to use their limbs properly.
It’s by no means a guarantee that this will happen, but the Windies haven’t won a big series in a long while. More importantly, they’ve put a lot of work into getting into this position and therefore feel they have even more at stake. They wouldn’t want to undo all that.
This kind of thinking can make your brain turn into cough syrup, reducing batsmen’s strokeplay to a semi-paralysed flapping disconnected from reason. There are probably enough strong-willed batsmen in this Windies side that this shouldn’t happen, but doubt can gnaw at anyone given the right conditions.
If it were ever going to happen, it will happen today.