After four ebbing, flowing days, we are none the wiser as to what the score will be when the two teams meet again in Manchester on Thursday. All four results are technically possible, but a positive result is overwhelmingly likely. Late on day four, things swung back the West Indies way as England lost five for 30 and Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph ran amok. England are 170 ahead, with two wickets in hand.
But what we can be certain of is that England will be making changes to their team – most probably in both the batting and the bowling. Stuart Broad seems almost certain to return, whatever the pitch looks like. And Joe Root absolutely, definitely will come back in at No.4 after the birth of his daughter Isabella nine days ago.
The two Kent men knew their pecking order too: Denly, who is 34 and had worked extremely hard to average exactly 30 in his 14 Tests before this, went in ahead of Crawley, who is a dozen years younger and looked a player of promise in South Africa at the start of the year. He opened then, but was down at No4 here, below Denly, the man in possession at No3. He would not have played were Root available.
That pecking order must now change.
Denly did as Denly does. He dug in, seeing off 128 balls, chipping into some helpful partnerships, before getting out; this time he got out in infuriating fashion, simply plopping Roston Chase to short midwicket.
Crawley failed in the first innings, then played a gem of a hand in the second. He made 76, meaning that he has made a career-best score in each of his five Tests. He did not go on to the maiden century that would have put this debate emphatically to bed, but he came in with England one behind and guided them to a lead of 140.
Denly’s Test career – as National Selector Ed Smith will tell you, repeatedly – should not be judged purely on his average. He has offered rare stubbornness at first drop, and has rarely failed. In 28 innings, he has made just four single figure scores, and his innings have lasted fewer than 25 balls only five times. These are admirable qualities that protect a dashing middle order. The trouble is that for all those starts, he has reached 40 just six times. 18 of his 28 innings have ended between 10 and 38.
If there was no-one knocking on the door – if not quite barging it down – that might be fine. But Crawley is going very nicely. In the five games they have played together, he has 250 runs to Denly’s 180, and truly does seem to improve each match – as his scores attest. Again, he scored all round the wicket, and pulled and drove handsomely.
Crawley has no great first-class record to speak of, is raw, and a long way from the finished product. He will know that, had he made it to stumps rather than falling straight after Ben Stokes (with whom he shared 98) during the collapse, England would be in a far stronger position. But he is considered a wise young man off the field; on it, his tempo at No.3 would contrast nicely with the adhesive opening partnership of Rory Burns and Dom Sibley, who provided a solid platform today.
There are two more things to consider. Crawley's style in South Africa suggests he could thrive in Australia, and England have made their interest in the Ashes, still 18 months away, even more abundantly clear in this Test match.
However it was dressed up in private and in public, the selection of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood over Broad was as much about the First Test of that series in Brisbane as it is the First Test of this series in Southampton. They do not want to turn up there with four bowlers serving up right-arm 84mph fare as they have on recent visits, so there is a need for speed. Here and now, though, perhaps there was not. It is time to show the same consistency of selection process when it comes to the batsmen.
Secondly, it has felt like the winds of generational change have been flowing through this side. There is a gaggle of 22-year-olds, like Ollie Pope and Dom Bess, in the team or on its fringes, like Sam Curran and another coming man, Dan Lawrence. Those in their thirties, like Broad, Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow, have been marginalised.
Smith, a stubborn selector, greatly admires Denly, and has staked a lot on him. It is time, though, for the succession to take place.