England and West Indies faced off in an enthralling Test match that marked the return of cricket post the COVID-enforced break. Although regular England skipper Joe Root missed the encounter to attend the birth of his second child, his replacement Ben Stokes and counterpart Jason Holder battled it out in Southampton.
For this Test, however, the Three Lions can call upon the services of their best Test batsman at the moment, and they will need him after the 4-wicket defeat the suffered in the series opener. Riding on Jermaine Blackwood's 95 and Shannon Gabriel's 9-wicket match haul, the Windies pulled off an upset to go 1-0 up in the 3-match series.
With a lot at stake in the 2nd Test, here are 5 things to watch out for at Old Trafford in Manchester, starting tomorrow.
#5 Will the English umpires improve?
A lesser-known fact about the first Test was that the ICC appointed two home umpires for the game, and gave both teams 3 reviews instead of the usual 2 in an attempt to level the playing field.
However, a host of incorrect decisions marred cricket's return. Multiple LBWs were wrongly given out and vice versa, and many clear no-balls were not called. Richard Kettleborough and Richard Illingworth didn't have the best of outings and although the former will be a third umpire for this Test (he is being replaced by Michael Gough), the spotlight will be on the umpires' decision-making.
With the conditions expected to aid fast bowling, the umpires would have to judge many LBWs and caught-behinds, and they will have to be at the top of their game to ensure that the debacle of the 1st Test doesn't repeat itself.
#4 Can Jos Buttler save his dying Test career?
England wicket-keeper Jos Buttler was always touted to be an excellent limited-overs player, but exceeded expectations by performing even in the longest format of the game. After Jonny Bairstow lost his place in the Test side due to his indifferent form, Buttler was expected to lend some solidity and balance to the English batting order.
However, things haven't gone to plan and it seems like Buttler has only a few Tests left to save his career. With the young Ben Foakes waiting in the wings and Bairstow himself raring to make a comeback, the attacking batsman is hanging off the precipice and only his bat can save him.
England's limited-overs vice-captain needs runs immediately and if he doesn't manage to score, we could see him meet the same fate that befell Eoin Morgan.
#3 Will Zak Crawley get the nod ahead of Joe Denly?
Young Zak Crawley was drafted into the playing XI for the first Test as a replacement for Root and his 74 in the second innings, coupled with No. 3 Joe Denly's twin failures, have created a selection headache. When Root does return, he could be forced to play at No. 3, a position he has batted at in the past, in order to ensure that the 22-year-old feels at home.
On the flip side, England might want their best batsman to play where he is most comfortable, and Crawley's inexperience at the crucial No. 3 position might see the veteran Denly get the nod. While England are expected to trust the youth and give the young right-hander another Test or two, their loss in the 1st Test could mean that they will back the old guard to deliver for them.
Either way, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, and the support staff have a dilemma on their hands.
#2 Will England make the right call by playing Stuart Broad?
Stand-in captain Ben Stokes shockingly dropped Stuart Broad for the 1st Test, and the legendary pacer's replacements Jofra Archer and Mark Wood didn't do so well. The latter, in particular, was ineffective, and with the conditions at Old Trafford expected to favour the pacers, we could see England's second-highest wicket-taker in Test cricket make a return.
Broad will be raring to prove the management wrong and with 485 Test wickets to his name, it is all but certain that he will know how to get the best of the conditions at his disposal. Archer should retain his place after a fiery fourth-innings spell, and the attack of James Anderson, Broad and Archer spells doom for the Windies.
The top order of Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, and Shai Hope all promised in the 1st Test, although they didn't exactly deliver, but they will be in for a much greater challenge against two of the greatest fast bowlers of all time. If Broad gets the nod, that is.
#1 Can Joe Root's return save England from an embarrassing home defeat?
England can take solace from the fact that their captain Joe Root is returning. As mentioned earlier, in place of whom is still a question, but the Three Lions' 10th highest run-scorer in Test cricket should solidify the batting lineup.
With Holder, Gabriel, and Roach as effective as Anderson and Broad in overcast conditions, the onus will be on the Yorkshireman to produce the goods with the series on the line. The 3-Test series is hanging in the balance and with the West Indies buoyed not only by their victory in the 1st Test but also by off-the-field movements, Joe Root will have to lead from the front in an otherwise inexperienced side.
Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Crawley, and Pope are all fairly new to Test cricket, and Root will have to channel every ounce of concentration in him if he is to score big.