Jermaine Blackwood overcame the devil on his shoulder and a few words from Ben Stokes when guiding West Indies to the four-wicket victory that puts them 1-0 up going into Thursday’s second Test.
The Jamaican batsman, 28, has long had a reputation for self-destructive moments out in the middle and, with Jason Holder’s side wobbling on 27 for three in pursuit of 200 on the final day in Southampton, appeared an unlikely saviour. After all, just two days earlier the right-hander had thrown his wicket away in the West Indies first innings when slapping Dom Bess straight to mid-off on 12 – a dismissal the England off-spinner later dubbed “a rogue shot”.
In the second innings Blackwood, the leading scorer during the most recent Caribbean domestic season, delivered a calm and classy 95 from 154 balls to break the back of the chase, even if he fell with 11 runs to get and just shy of a second Test century.
“I went out there and from the first ball Ben Stokes was in my ear,” Blackwood said. “I wasn’t really paying too much attention to that, I was keen on getting the runs and getting my team across the line.
“I can’t really remember [what was said] but it was nothing bad. That’s cricket, you’ll always hear a bit of talking – that’s how it should be played, in my view. I just like to be in the moment. Pressure doesn’t move me too much. Once I get myself in and get into my zone it’s hard to come out of it.”
Blackwood has flattered to deceive during his 29-cap Test career and his dismissal at Headingley three years ago, stumped trying to smash a six to wrap up his side’s famous win, seemed to sum up a player prone to rushes of blood to the head.
Explaining the transformation, he said: “When I started playing for West Indies I was going after the bowling from ball one and I wasn’t giving myself a chance. This year I told myself I’m going to bat as long as possible – once I did that, I wasn’t thinking about scoring, I was thinking about batting. What’s pleasing is before I went out the coach and captain told me to play my natural game. That was the most pleasing thing, having their full support.”
Phil Simmons, the head coach, said he did not realise England were trying to get under Blackwood’s skin: “It’s what I would have done, too, and tried to get him irrational. But he held his own and played the situation. That shows his mindset is improving and that is all you can ask. He must be commended because he has worked very hard to try to get his temperament at the right stage for each part of his innings.”
Simmons confirmed the opener John Campbell escaped a broken toe after being struck by a Jofra Archer yorker on the final day in Southampton and, with no injuries among the bowlers, the only decision to make this week is whether the Old Trafford pitch might suit the off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall.