Nagraj Gollaupadi, in ESPNcricinfo, 12 July 2020, where the title reads “Jermaine Blackwood writes history in his own way”
Dom Bess mocked him in the first innings. Jermaine Blackwood had charged England’s offspinner on Friday to hit hard into the hands of James Anderson at mid-off. Bess imitated swinging a golf club, as if out of a bunker in the golf course adjacent to Ageas Bowl. Blackwood’s audacity was not to the Englishman’s liking.
Blackwood’s inclusion in the team was a clear indication that West Indies were uncertain about their top order, and would need to bench their lead spinner Rahkeem Cornwall, who had taken ten wickets in West Indies’ last Test, in November against Afghanistan. But could Blackwood be trusted?
Recently Andy Roberts told Michael Holding (on the latter’s You Tube channel) that it was one thing to score in domestic cricket, where Blackwood emerged as the top run-scorer in the West Indies Championships (which got him into the squad), and another to dominate a famed fast bowling attack like England’s. Roberts was not certain how long Blackwood could curb his natural instinct, to attack.
Roger Harper, the West Indies chief selector, though, had said he was impressed by Blackwood’s maturity. Blackwood himself wanted to snap the moniker of being a “ball beater”. He said he knew how to bat a situation and his main aim in England would be to bat time.
He had even trained with the most valuable player in T20 cricket, someone known for keeping his cool with both bat and ball in high-pressure situations in franchise cricket – fellow Jamaican Andre Russell. Yet, the manner in which he charged Bess when West Indies needed him to play time and build an innings, made Bess’s subsequent description of it to host broadcaster Sky Cricket as a “rogue” shot seem apt. Blackwood had lasted 22 balls for his 12 runs.
Sunday offered Blackwood another shot at redemption. West Indies had been flattened by one of their own – Jofra Archer, formerly of Barbados now of England. Archer first sent John Campbell to ice his big toe on the right foot with a scorching yorker first ball of the morning. Kraigg Brathwaite and Shamarh Brooks were defeated by pace.
Overnight, the Caribbean would have slept with hopes of a historic win. By the time it woke up the dream seemed nearly crushed at 35 for 3 with two sessions left.
Blackwood’s innings began somewhat restlessly. On 5 he attempted to cut Bess from close to his body. He had already played 20 balls. The ball jumped on him, but Stokes, at slip, had moved swiftly to his right already, and saw the ball fly past his flailing, outstretched left hand. Blackwood was getting edgy. In the next over, against an over-pitched delivery from Wood, Blackwood would ease to his first boundary, off his 26th delivery.
He had started to settle down, in mind and on the pitch. Even as England attacked him and Roston Chase with short deliveries in the second session, both men held firm. They knew the ball was soft. The pitch was flat. The sun was shining. They rotated the strike instead of indulging in fancy strokeplay.
Both men were patient, vigilant, and enjoyed their element of luck. On 20, Blackwood gloved a short delivery from Stokes that was climbing on to his hips, but Jos Buttler fumbled, failing to even gather the ball neatly. The umpire erred too, signaling the run a leg bye. Stokes held his head, moaning in disappointment.
Blackwood did not get distracted. Archer came for his first spell post lunch and fired a fuller length delivery into the Jamaican’s legs. If he missed, it would be plumb. Instead Blackwood flicked his wrist deftly to time a lovely boundary. He was now waiting for the ball instead of showing any rush of blood. He was even presenting the full face of the bat. When Stokes fired up the pace into the high 80s mph and produced a bouncer, Blackwood ducked quietly and then nodded his head as the frustrated England captain uttered a few words.
Stokes was not giving up. Next over, he attacked Blackwood in the channel. The batsman poked, but Rory Burns, at short gully could not even spot the ball as it zipped passed even before he could get both hands together for the reverse cup. That was the second time Blackwood had survived a close call in a matter of two deliveries. On the last ball off the previous over, by Archer, Chase had pushed the ball to the left of Zak Crawley at cover and set off. Blackwood did not move as both batsmen found themselves at the same end. Luckily Crawley fumbled, too, allowing Blackwood to finish the run. To his credit, Blackwood did not allow that incident to dent his confidence. Knowing there was no third man, he played an expansive upper cut for four when Archer then banged in a short delivery.
To understand the worth of Blackwood’s innings you need to look at how he responded to the situation after Chase left. Blackwood showed the maturity that Harper had witnessed in first-class cricket. He did not let his intent drop as he drove Bess through the covers in the over after Chase was out. Buttler chirped in his ears, “move to 49” to try and distract the Jamaican. But Blackwood was batting in his own bubble now. He would clear the milestone and continue to punish the loose deliveries.
England has always brought out the best from Blackwood. In seven matches, including this one, he has scored 605 runs at a more than healthy average of 55, including one century and three half centuries. His control percentage on Sunday was in the 70s, but Blackwood has always got a start in the fourth innings against England, including making 41 in that famous Headingley triumph in 2017.
“If England laughed on Friday, Blackwood walked back to the silent claps of the West Indies camp on Sunday. In normal times, he would have got a standing ovation.”
In the first hour of the final session, Blackwood was aware that England would peg him back with the short stuff, but also attack his stumps. Archer did that to perfection. But Blackwood, by now, was wise to the bowling plan. He remained in his crease but was light footed, ducking and weaving the barrage of short deliveries that were fired at him. Stokes kept ringing in Blackwood’s ears from slip and on following through. Blackwood did not do ego.
With the finish line in sight, Stokes fired another short delivery at Blackwood, who arched back to pick an easy four past the empty third man area. He was now five short of a match-winning, and possibly series turning, century.
Stokes pitched fuller. As he had done frequently throughout this innings, Blackwood went for the shot. He believed it was there to be hit. It was an airy, punched drive, hit with the full face, but was plucked by Anderson at mid-off. In a game of risk and reward, this time Blackwood paid the price. But it was not a high price to pay like two days back. If England laughed on Friday, Blackwood walked back to the silent claps of the West Indies camp on Sunday. In normal times, he would have got a standing ovation.
Back home in the Caribbean, several thousands would have deservedly given him one. West Indies head coach Phil Simmons had asked Blackwood to play time and put pressure on bowlers. Blackwood carried out that task for four hours in his 154-ball stay.
He is no more the ball-basher. In a historic Test match played behind closed doors, Blackwood emerged as the unlikely hero. Writing history in his own way.