They say a change of scenery is as good as a rest and Alastair Cook looks to have benefited from both if the performance of England’s Test captain on day one of this opening tour match is anything to go by.
Cook, after losing the one-day captaincy shortly before Christmas, has spent the past three months at home on the family farm in Bedfordshire with his wife Alice and Elsie, his baby daughter who celebrated her first birthday on the day England departed for the Caribbean last Thursday.
He looks well for it too, ending the day on an authoritative unbeaten 95 against a St Kitts & Nevis Invitation XI. England’s opponents, who were routed for 59 in the morning session and include just eight players with first-class experience, may be of questionable quality.
Yet Cook, without a Test century since May 2013, will take what he can as he attempts to rebuild confidence and momentum before the home Ashes summer. Those are both commodities in short supply right now in English cricket after their horrendous World Cup campaign.
However, England looked comfortable back in the bosom of red-ball cricket as Cook and his new opening partner Jonathan Trott both posted half-centuries, the tourists closing on 181 for one on day one of this two-day, 12-a-side contest at Warner Park.
England last wore whites in August at The Oval, when they sealed a third successive victory against India to clinch the Test series 3-1. That remains the only series victory of Peter Moores’ second spell in charge as head coach. He will hope to change that over the next three Tests against West Indies, the first of which starts in Antigua on Monday.
There were positive signs that Ben Stokes, back after being overlooked for the World Cup, could make a major impact in the upcoming series. The Durham all-rounder bowled beautifully as he took three wickets in five balls to rip the heart out of the St Kitts & Nevis XI’s top order.
“Even though it was a warm-up game the nerves were still there and it was pretty pleasing I did pretty well,” said Stokes. “Hopefully that’s just the start.”
Stokes was glad to see his captain return to some kind of form too, saying: “It’s fantastic for Cooky, he’s not played for England in a while and for him to look like one of the best batsman in the world again was great.”
The return of Trott is also promising for England, especially if he can regain the form which had made him such a key player before his early return home from the 2013-14 Ashes tour with situational anxiety. In his first game for a senior England XI since then, Trott made a slow start here but reached 50 from 93 balls before eventually falling for 72 after he was caught at short-leg off the spin of Steve Liburd.
“He’s been great,” said Stokes. “It’s almost like he hasn’t left and to see him go out and score runs in the way he’s been known to over the last few years was really good to see.”
Ideally, England would have batted first to give the new opening combination of Cook and Trott a chance to build a rapport.
But the home team chose to do so themselves after winning the toss. As it transpired, things worked out perfectly for England as they skittled out their opponents in just 26.3 overs.
Jimmy Anderson, who will play his 100th Test match in Antigua, made the breakthrough in the ninth over with a fine delivery that bowled Sherwin Peters. The home side were 18 for one at that stage but their innings went downhill rapidly with the introduction of Stokes into the attack.
Ross Powell, 16, was his first victim, edging to Cook at first slip. Shane Jeffers, the opener picking out point, and Liburd, snaffled by Cook at first slip, followed.
Chris Jordan furthered his claims for inclusion in the team for the first Test with the wickets of Akeem Saunders, caught behind, and Jacques Taylor, James Tredwell taking a spectacular catch at third slip to end the batsman’s tortuous 19-ball duck.
The St Kitts & Nevis XI were now 43 for six and they were in an even more precarious position when Stuart Broad dismissed Jeremiah Louis and Jaison Peters.
The spin of Adil Rashid, the Yorkshire leggie, and Tredwell then mopped up the tail to allow Trott and Cook to dominate proceedings.
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