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Cricket news - When Blackwood 2.0 stole the show

Holder says he'd love a team made of Jermaine Blackwoods

Holder says he'd love a team made of Jermaine Blackwoods

With a knock of 63 on debut in the Port of Spain Test against New Zealand in 2014, Jermaine Blackwood had announced himself on the world stage. Back then, with a strike rate that used to hover around the 40-60 mark, he was seen as someone who could lend stability in the middle order. But something changed in the years to follow. From 2016, his strike-rate increased, even crossing 100 on a few occasions and a batsman who was considered reliable was now being seen as more of a dasher. And with his scores not doing justice, he found himself out of the team in 2017.

When West Indies were reduced to 27 for 3 in the chase of 200 in the Southampton Test, this version of Blackwood may not have inspired much confidence. He had gotten out to a greedy shot off Dom Bess in the first innings, falling for 12, and a sense of deja vu was settling in. But the 28-year-old went on to reveal the kind of maturity, that promises to be the start of a second coming.

Having played only one innings between October 2017 and this game - that too as a concussion substitute in the Jamaica Test against India in 2019 - West Indies' precarious situation in the chase also presented Blackwood a chance to re-establish his credentials.

"He knew what he had done and he knew he's a better player than what he did in the first innings. So there was no need to talk to him," said captain Jason Holder later. "I thought he was a very crucial guy in this run chase. Him, probably John Campbell, when these guys get going they score relatively quickly. I just said to Jermaine 'look, just give yourself a chance, see a few balls and then play your game. If you see a ball in your arc and if you feel you can put it away, then put it away.' That's the way he plays." For Holder, Blackwood's recent first-class record was not something West Indies could ignore - even if Shimron Hetmyer and Darren Bravo were available for this series.

"He had an outstanding first-class competition. His case was pretty strong to get back in the team. He scored a double hundred in a first-class game...His numbers speak for himself. He's not a slouch with the bat at this level in comparison with the players we've got. He still averages 30 and he's done well."

***

Jofra Archer was breathing fire in the second innings, with the top-order having caved in, and in walked Blackwood. At that stage, Chase was playing the anchor's role from one end, and West Indies needed someone to ensure the scoreboard did not stagnate while also keeping risks to a minimum. The margin for error in such a role is minute. Would Blackwood be that binding force for the West Indies?

As has been the case over the last couple of days, there wasn't much help for the bowlers once the ball became soft. However, on a slow wicket with the England bowlers not giving an inch, the batsmen had to ensure that their concentration did not waver. Blackwood and Chase were geared up for the challenge, and the balance that the former brought to the plate was a crucial factor in West Indies's revival.

Just before the second hour of the second session, as the sun beat down on what was effectively a Day 4 pitch, Archer was re-introduced into the attack. Having weathered a storm earlier, it was time for the fourth wicket pair to hit the repeat button. And as they steadied the innings with a determined 73-run stand, England were pressing the panic button. There were dropped catches, a missed run-out chance and slowly Blackwood profited off the reprieves.

Chase, who stood like a pillar supporting West Indies' innings, made his way back to the hut after a snorter from Archer, leaving the onus on Blackwood to ensure that their good work did not go in vain. The dismissal of Chase, with West Indies only halfway there, was an important juncture of the Test match. England had the opportunity to sneak in a few more wickets and tilt the balance in their favour. Blackwood, meanwhile, had to turn into the man who would steer West Indies.

At that stage, with a strike-rate of just 55, Blackwood had already shown that his temperament was not always one-dimensional. Blocking when he needed to block, cashing in on anything that was loose, while also rotating the strike - Blackwood was pacing it expertly as he took West Indies closer, along with Shane Dowrich who contributed 20 in a 68-run stand. There was no shaking his method even as Dowrich departed, with West Indies within touching distance of a memorable win.

What it had done was also ease some of the burden of West Indies' "engine room".

"We call ourselves the engine room for a reason," said Holder about the roles of Chase, Dowrich and himself in the batting order. "So much is expected of us being senior players, we need to take the responsibility to carry the team through. I think Roston's knocks were very crucial. Him and Jermaine are very close off the field as well. So I felt it was a good partnership for Jermaine because at the other end was one of his best mates. That partnership worked really well for us and then Shane came in, Shane got a start as well and absorbed some pressure from Jermaine. And then I was able to come in and be there at the end...keep things calm, keep talking to Jermaine and making sure that he's not going into his shell but is just being selective. And he did a very good job for us."

***

This was not the first time that Blackwood was part of a tense chase against England. His supporting roles - an unbeaten 47 off 104 in a chase of 192 in the 2015 Barbados Test and a 45-ball 41 in the 2017 Leeds win - had been overshadowed by other worthy performances.

But this one was Blackwood's moment totally, and one that could prove to be a career-defining one having come in circumstances far from ideal, off the field and in an occasion that had the world tuning in.

He wasn't there till the end of the innings, falling five short of what would have been his second century in Test cricket. It was an anti-climatic walk back to the pavilion with disappointment written all over his face at not being able to finish the game.

Maybe it was poetic that Jason Holder, who set the tone for the game with his six-wicket haul, was there when it ended. But Blackwood's contribution would rank very high in what was a glorious moment for cricket itself.

"If I had 12 Jermaine Blackwoods, those are the kind of guys you want to step on a field with...sometimes he feels as though he can carry everybody on his shoulders. He's that confident a player," said Holder. An apt summation of the man and his moment.

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