Jofra Archer was in the mood. You could see it in his batting early on Sunday morning. Crack! He lashed Jason Holder through long-off. Smack! He thrashed Shannon Gabriel through midwicket. Archer has always been able to hit them, but this was a little different to anything he’d done for England before. Here he was playing senior partner to the other two batsmen, Mark Wood and Jimmy Anderson, both older and more experienced than him. He was dictating how they were going to go about it, telling them which singles to take and which to turn down. When Gabriel got him out, caught behind, Archer stared into the distance, obviously furious.
On Friday, Archer had been goaded by the old Bajan fast bowler Tino Best on Twitter. “Your bowling toothpaste,” Best said, “and u haven’t bowled quickly since the ASHES, now go sleep and get some rest for WI to beat ya ball second innings.” Archer replied: “You must live a miserable life.” But he knew, too, that Best wasn’t the only one talking about whether England were right to pick him and Mark Wood ahead of Stuart Broad, the papers were full of it too, and while Broad was very careful not to criticise either of them during his press conference on Friday morning, the implication of what he said was clear. He thought England had got it all wrong.
Yes, Jofra Archer was in the mood. In the mood to take on a team filled with men he’d grown up playing with and against, a team he might have been playing for himself if the selectors hadn’t snubbed him for the under-19 team back in 2014, and sent him off looking for other opportunities abroad.
His first ball was full, fast and straight, and it hit John Campbell flush on the end of his big toe. It wasn’t out. But there’s more than one way to get rid of a batsman, and minutes later Campbell hobbled off the field, bare-footed, bleeding, leaning on the doctor’s shoulder. Five balls later, Archer got Shamarh Brooks lbw with a similar delivery. He was bowling 85mph or so, but with Archer there’s always the latent threat of something faster, the one the batsman’s waiting for, worrying about, while they’re hanging back in their crease watching for it. West Indies were 27 for three and reeling.
But Archer wasn’t the only man out there burning to prove a point. Jermaine Blackwood was batting now. Blackwood’s a little man with an extraordinary talent and a temper ill-suited to Test cricket. Last time he was in England, he made a crucial 41 in West Indies’ famous victory at Headingley and, when he had the chance to seal it by hitting the winning runs, he charged down the wicket, tried to yahoo Moeen Ali out of the ground and got stumped by a distance. The selectors gave him five more innings, he made single figures in every one. Then they lost patience and dropped him.
Blackwood was back in the team now only because two men ahead of him, Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer, chose to sit out this tour. Blackwood had led the scoring in the domestic league and made 248 in his last first-class innings. He promised he was a new man, said he had learned to play a long game, then, in the first innings here, he slapped a catch to mid-off on 12. “A leopard can’t change its spots”, said Michael Holding. England agreed, and waited for him to make his usual mistake. And he did slip up, but they let him get away with it, they missed catches at slip and gully, a chance of a run out from the covers. So Ben Stokes started sledging Blackwood, tried to tease him into doing something stupid.
And when that didn’t work, Stokes set Archer after him again. In the heat of the late afternoon, he did for Chase with a wicked bouncer and rattled Shane Dowrich with another. But he couldn’t get Blackwood, who ducked and bobbed and weaved out of the way. After tea, in what felt like England’s last good chance, Archer knocked him flat on his back. And Blackwood got right back up again. When Archer gave him the chance, he threw blows of his own, whipped him to midwicket, cut him over slip, smacked him through cover. It was one of the great stretches of Test cricket, a duel between two men, with the match on the line. Blackwood still managed to get himself out before the end, caught at mid-off again. Disappointed as he obviously was, he’d made his point. And, even though he’d lost, so had his opponent.