The West Indies defeat England as cricket is back with a bang

Tourists, who gave the sport a much-needed lift just by taking to the field at the Ageas Bowl, battle to four-wicket victory thanks to Blackwood's knock of 95

It didn’t even need to be this good. Cricket fans would have taken anything. Just the chance to see a little bit of live action again, for the first time in such a long time.

Literally, anything would have been better than the nothingness that had pervaded during the troubles of the recent past.

What they got was a classic – accessible maybe only from the sofa, and with negligible ambience, but in glorious HD technicolour.

West Indies had already given the sport a gift just by turning up.

By leaving behind their relative Covid-haven at home, and entering a hotbed instead.

By agreeing to enter quarantine for weeks, to social distance, to follow the arrows, just to play a bit of cricket.

Then they provided another offering that cricket fans the world over will be salivating over: the confirmation that West Indies are back.

OK, so they won the series last time these two teams had met, anyway. Plus, the series is nowhere near won yet, not on the basis of their four-wicket win in Southampton.

But winning away, under the conditions this series is being played in, in the manner they did at the Ageas Bowl, warmed the soul.

It was so good, it had the likes of Michael Holding and Ian Bishop, greats of West Indies cricket who have so often been left careworn by the struggles of those who have succeeded them, eulogising about them.

Eulogising about their character and their grit. About finding a will and a way to get the job done when the top was going, when Jofra Archer and Mark Wood were bowling bombs, and Ben Stokes was being Ben Stokes.

It was a Test match that was bookended by Holding choking back emotion. Victory meant that much to him.

After that poignant first morning, every Holding utterance thereafter felt like a state of the union oration. Even if it was just discussing the limited catering options in the biosecure bubble.

So when he was signing off the broadcast by acclaiming a side that Caribbean supporters can believe in again, it was good to hear.

They had a number of heroes. Shannon Gabriel had started this tour under and injury cloud, and had to prove he was clear of ankle trouble before being named in the squad ahead of the first Test.

He ended with the match award for nine wickets in the game, which included four vital ones either side of stumps on the fourth evening that meant his side needed a round 200 to win.

Getting there was no easy task, with Archer seemingly smarting from his mid-match social-media contretemps with former West Indies quick Tino Best.

It is not clear what “bowling toothpaste” – Best’s description for Archer’s first innings offering – means. But it probably does not include the sort of fare that brought him three wickets on Sunday, as well as a possible broken toe for John Campbell.

Jermaine Blackwood led the resistance, though, with a 95 that ended in typical fashion – a flashy drive to James Anderson at mid off, just as he had perished in the first innings – but won the match for his side.

Jason Holder, another of the Caribbean heroes, described Blackwood as “fearless” for the way he marshalled the tourists through the nervy final day.

“From these kind of cricketers you can expect big moments, and today was his big moment,” said Holder, who just about edged his own top-of-the-bill battle of the captains with Stokes.

And not only his. This was West Indies’ big moment, and maybe cricket’s, too.

Updated: July 12, 2020 10:51 PM

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