England v West Indies: Ben Stokes hits sixth Test century as top-order fail again

Ben Stokes scores a century on a tough day for Englands top-order

For when push comes to shove this winter, when England are four down and wobbling as history both distant and recent suggests they almost certainly will, the knowledge he has a man capable of riding to the rescue from miles back will be reassuring.

Yet before the England skipper is warmed too much by the presence of Stokes, who entered the field at 71-4 yesterday hammered an imposing 100 and steered them to 258 before England were all out, he will be worried sick about the men above.

And, with just one more innings here and one more Test at Lord’s between England’s top order and the bared teeth of an Aussie attack at the Gabba, he should be.

It is painfully clear England’s selectors have a difficult few meetings ahead after Mark Stoneman, Tom Westley and Dawid Malan all flopped again.

Most disappointing for the England skipper will be that, on the eve of this Test, having challenged all three to grab their chance to stake an Ashes claim, not only did they all fail but all failed to poor shots.

Having started the day hoping yesterday might have clarified matters, it now appears the tail end of the County Championship will be a race to the plan.

Alex Hales, Haseeb Hameed, Keaton Jennings, Gary Ballance as well as the above are all under orders.

England’s total was below par for all that West Indies have their work cut out having battled hard to 19-1 at the close still 239 runs behind, Jimmy Anderson with the solitary breakthrough.

But it could easily have been so much worse for the hosts had Root and Stokes not made the most of all the luck they were generously given by the tourists.

West Indies, abject with the ball at Edgbaston, delivered a more cohesive bowling display here after losing the toss, hitting a better line and length and probing off stump.

Yet instead here they were absymal with their hands, spilling four easy catches, and two which cost them plenty.

Kemar Roach celebrates for West Indies

Kemar Roach celebrates the wicket of Mark Stoneman for the West Indies against England at Edgbaston

Stokes provided for two of those drops – spilled by Kraigg Braithwaite at second slip when he had nine and by Shannon Gabriel when he had 98.

Root, who equalled AB De Villiers record of 12 consecutive Tests with a half century making 59 was dropped by Kieran Powell at first slip off the bowling of Gabriel when he had nine.

The later Stokes fumble by Gabriel at mid on and a terrible fluff behind the stumps off an edge from Broad cost two runs in total, but those earlier blunders ultimately cost West Indies 141 runs – well over half England’s total.

And on a pitch which will give increasingly sparse returns, that could be the match.

Alastair Cook had been unable to repeat his efforts at Edbgaston where he posted a double hundred, but unfortunately Stoneman and Westley proved more than capable of doing just that.

The opener had moved to 19 before a loose drive at Kemar Roach took an inside edge to the keeper.

In between the opening pair, Westley played uncertainly to leg at a ball from the same bowler which straightened, taking it right in front of his off stump on the back pad – his second consecutive lbw.

Malan had come in at 37-3 and dug in to lunch. After 39 balls he was bowled for eight by the nagging not express pace of Jason Holder, getting an inside edge on to his stumps.

On the one hand it is still early days for this trio, with Stoneman averaging 13.5 after just two innings, Westley just over 22 and Malan 18, both from six knocks.

Yet their nerves might not make it feel like that. And nerves are the biggest obstacle.

Perhaps they, too, can draw comfort from Stokes on a day when he was able to reach his target at after being given a second and a third chance.

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