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2020 in Review

Wisden’s Test innings of the year: No.5 – Jermaine Blackwood’s 95

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read

No.5 in Wisden’s Test innings of the year, part of the 2020 in Review series, is Jermaine Blackwood’s 95 against England, a match-winning innings whose impact outstripped its quality.

Jermaine Blackwood 95 (154)

England v West Indies
The Ageas Bowl, Southampton
1st Test
July 8-12

Despite four days of competitive toil in the first Test at the Ageas Bowl, underpinned by a six-for from captain Jason Holder, it seemed West Indies’ poor away form would continue. On a fifth-day pitch, England had set their opponents 200 to win, and Jofra Archer and Mark Wood quickly had the chase in tatters, reducing West Indies to 27-3 – effectively 27-4 with John Campbell retired hurt – in 11.4 overs.

Apart from Shai Hope’s Headingley miracle, the Windies were winless overseas against sides other than Zimbabwe and Bangladesh since 2007, and it seemed as if that run would continue. West Indies had been praised for being the first international sports team to brave the Covid-19 pandemic, travelling to one of the world’s hot spots to spend months in a bio-bubble. They had won fans too for their firm upholding of the Black Lives Matter message in the lead-up, with the two teams taking a knee before play began. The black gloves donned by the tourists tied their protest to the 1968 Olympics, telling the tale of a battle that has gone on for far too long and is still struggling to be heard. The twin threads of disease and racism combined to make the Test one of cricket’s most anticipated, and it seemed, for all West Indies’ pluck, that England would win out.

And then Jermaine Blackwood, with only limited support from Roston Chase (37) and Shane Dowrich (20), smashed 95 to all but win West Indies the Test match all but single-handedly.

For Blackwood himself, this was an innings of personal triumph. This Test marked the first since 2017 he had been picked in the XI for – one cap came in 2019 as a concussion sub – and he had worked hard to add a steelier side to his game, to ground the flourishing attacking strokes in a defensive foundation. 768 runs at 51.20 in West Indies’ first-class competition earned him a recall, and then, after drilling loosely to mid-off in the first innings, came this. In terms of historical context, the match situation, the conditions and the quality of the attack, Blackwood’s innings could hardly have been improved.

All of which raises the question: why is it only fifth in this list, rather than nestling somewhere right at the top? And the answer, at the risk of sounding hopelessly churlish and myopic, is that it wasn’t actually that good an innings.

By the time he’d reached 30, he’d already had four lives, dropped three times – though once off what was later revealed to be a no-ball – and with a run-out missed too. There were plenty of plays-and-misses and edges which fell short too, with Blackwood displaying little of the raved-about new-found solidity supposedly on show at the level below.

There is merit to the point that to put the unpunished aberrations and accumulated lives to one side and play with freedom anyway, is to be applauded; indeed, some would say it’s the hallmark of a good player. And there was plenty to cheer about Blackwood’s innings, with his customary front-foot smash-drives, mixed in with some clever upper-cuts and tidy leg-side flicks, taking the impetus away from a team that had been on top.

And yet it’s hard to not come back to the fact that, by rights, he shouldn’t have had the chance to play any of those shots. Had Ben Stokes stood his ground at slip, Jos Buttler gathered a leg-side tickle, or Zak Crawley cleanly gathered a routine pick-up, West Indies would have bemoaned that Blackwood had thrown it away again, and they would have been right to.

This then was not a great innings by the usual metrics. It wasn’t a steady deconstruction or a calculated counter-attack against a skilful bowling line-up, but a chancy match-winner that could have been much less. And yet it’s in there that the true brilliance of the performance lies. Rather than summing up Test cricket’s brutality and challenge, this demonstrated its fickleness. Most innings end in failure, and you can bat exactly as well on two different days and make a hundred on one and a duck on the other. Blackwood’s innings is the logical endpoint, that you can do everything wrong to start with and still come out on top.

Blackwood could have been the villain, but instead he was the hero. It hardly matters that he had little choice about it.

< No.6 in Wisden’s Test innings of the year: Jos Buttler’s 75

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