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England travelled to the Caribbean riding high from a Sri Lankan success, but could they continue their winning ways against the seemingly downtrodden West Indies?

Our Starfish, Parrotfish, Snapper & Dolphin groups arrived into Barbados to 29+ degree heat and glorious sunshine, where our enthusiastic Cricket fans enjoyed a quiet two days of sightseeing and sunbathing on this beautiful Caribbean Island. Quiet banter wittered between excited travelling fans and the relaxed locals, who seemed a little non plussed about fuss of a Test Match in town, potentially due in part to their poor performance against Bangladesh at the end of 2018.

On the eve of the match there was doubt in both camps, social media stirring the series into life, describing the wicket as ‘rough and looking like a field’, and neither side had announced a team. The Windies went in to Day One with a very inexperienced team, with four seam bowlers and a part time spinner. England were faithful to their Sri Lankan winning team, three seamers and two spinners.

Windies win the toss and decide to bat, showing confidence in their batters and the wicket! A quiet Test Match start, 80 for 1 at lunch, with nothing to report on with the slow and docile wicket. Come 3pm there was choruses of ‘did you see that bounce’, ‘where has that come from?’ as they took the new ball straight away. By the end of play Windies were 8 wickets down and the behaviour of the wicket suggested interesting times ahead.

The second day of the test arrived, and West Indies were all out for 289 with the runs shared by four batters getting in without scoring big! No big scores but potential to score big was becoming obvious and we were all braced to watch out for Hetmyer. England’s turn to bat, with plenty of time to establish a strong position in the game and take a first innings lead and press home their test match experience but it was a disaster and all out for 77.  England fought back in the Windies second innings to have them 6 wickets down, could we be back in the game with four quick wickets at the beginning of day 3? Tongues were wagging and the social media juggernaught was fired up in a frenzy of questioning the Team, but for any neutrals around the ground, what a great day of Test Match cricket it was.

Dowich and Holder started Day 3. Control and four wickets England and then bat, bat, bat! End of play, Windies still batting, Dowich and Holder still batting! A magnificent day of disciplined batting from the two local lads. We sat back and admired. Questions had to be asked. Day 2, 18 wickets fall, no wickets fall in day 3. That hadn’t happened in more than a handful of Test Matches in the history of Test Match cricket, and we were there to witness it in.

A Gullivers Cricket Forum was held on the evening of the 3rd day – attended by clients from the Dolphin, Starfish, Parrotfish and Snapper Tours.  Our guests were Jonathan Agnew, Tino Best and Matt Prior.  There were incredible insights, followed laughs a plenty with stories of Tino’s antics off the Cricket Pitch, and when questions were the invited from the audience there was much attention on Root’s selections!

Dowich and Holder continued Day 4 - how far could they go? After another hour both men deservedly reach personal land marks; 116 not out for Dowich and a magnificent 202 not out for Holder. Now for the kill. England second innings, plenty of time to bring some pride back into their performance. 628 to win, plenty of overs. 80 overs later and another day still to play the game was over.

Our travellers enjoyed a free day on what should have been the last day of Cricket, with everyone discussing how England had been completely out played by a young talented side superbly lead by a World Class performer in Jason Holder. The last couple of days were spent relaxing on the beach, hitting the azure blue sea on snorkelling and catamaran trips or sampling local delicacies on the Rum Shop Hop tour. Our 1st Testers departed us, closely followed the next day by our Dolphin and Snapper groups who boarded the Private Charter Flight to Antigua where everyone wondered if this was about to become a very difficult Caribbean tour?

After the disappointment of England’s defeat in Barbados, the Dolphin, Snapper, Stingray, Manta Ray and Barracuda Tours arrived in Antigua for the 2nd Test.  There were mixed reports on the state of the wicket at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium – so it was little surprise, when Joe Root lost the Toss again, that Jason Holder elected to bowl first.

Debutant Joe Denly joined Rory Burns to open the England innings, but both were dismissed within the first 10 overs with Joe Root and Jos Buttler also falling before lunch when the score was 78-4.  Johnny Bairstow was 52 not out at that stage but was dismissed on the second ball after the re-start.  After Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Ben Foakes put on an 85-run partnership for the 7th wicket.  The last 3 wickets added only 9 runs as England subsided to 187 all out in 61 overs.  Ben Foakes sustained a hand injury during his innings and could not keep wicket during the Match.  In the 21 overs possible before Close of Play (COP), Windies advanced to 30-0.

On the 2nd morning the Windies started strong and after a 62-run partnership for the 2nd wicket, Darren Bravo arrived at the crease to start what turned out to be a ‘marathon’ innings of 342 minutes and 216 balls.  When England took that new ball – immediately after Tea – Windies had advanced to 212-5.  Only one more wicket fell before COP with the score on 272-6, a lead of 85 runs.

Only 34 runs were added on the 3rd morning as the Windies progressed to 306 all out. Wickets fell steadily throughout the afternoon and early-evening sessions, as England could not cope with the pace and bounce of Roach, Holder and Alzarri Joseph.  Buttler top-scored with 24.  Faced with a target of 14 to win, Brathwaite and Campbell hit out in ‘cavalier fashion’ and needed only 13 balls to complete a resounding Series-winning victory in less than 3 days!

For the additional 2 ‘non-cricket’ days, our clients were offered some complimentary excursions; starting with a visit to Shirley Heights for a vibrant Sunday Evening Party, then a trip into the capital, St John’s, on the Monday morning or the chance to visit some of Antigua’s world famous 365 beaches.  Many had booked our Island Experience Tour for the day after the scheduled last day – and this included a visit to the iconic English Harbour and Nelson’s Dockyard.

The Snapper and Barracuda Tours returned to the UK on 6th February, and, on the following day, the Dolphin, Stingray and Manta Ray Tours travelled by charter flight to St Lucia – to be joined for the 3rd Test by the Turtle Tour.  For the day before the Match started, many clients had booked the Bean to Bar Hotel Chocolat Tour or the Sunset Cruise, both of which offered their own delectable start to the time in St Lucia.

The wicket at the Darren Sammy International Cricket Stadium is reputed to be the fastest in the Caribbean – so it was no surprise, when Joe Root completed his hat-trick of toss losses, that stand-in Captain Kraigg Brathwaite inserted England again.  There was a 30-minute rain interruption after 5 overs, and all was well thereafter until Keaton Jennings was out (in ‘familiar fashion’) for 8 (30-1).  Three more wickets fell during the afternoon session, and tea was taken at 114-4 with Buttler and Ben Stokes together.  Their partnership had reached 124 by COP.

The 2nd morning followed an all-too regular pattern – 6 wickets falling for 46 runs in 19 overs; Kemar Roach was, again, England’s chief tormentor as they were bowled out for 277.  Brathwaite and Campbell started where they had finished in Antigua and reached 51 when afternoon drinks were taken but the West Indies were 5 wickets down by tea. The collapse continued with little offering any meaningful resistance and the innings ended on 154, giving England a lead of 123.  That was advanced to 142 in the 10 overs before COP.

Burns was out to the very first ball of Day 3, after which Jennings and Denly put on 54 for the second wicket, and the latter also contributed 40 to the 74-run partnership for the third wicket (with Root) before he was out for 69 with the score on 147-3.  Buttler joined Root, and they took the score to 254 when Buttler was bowled for 56.  Root completed his century in the evening session, and England closed the day at 325-4 – a lead of 448. The turnaround England needed, albeit far too late in the series to change the result.

A Gullivers Cricket Forum was held on the evening of the 3rd day – attended by clients from the Dolphin, Stingray, Manta Ray and Turtle Tours.  Our guests were Jonathan Agnew and Sir Alastair Cook.  There was a ‘spirited’ discussion between them on the state of the Match – including an interesting insight from a former England Captain into how his successor might be approaching the following day’s play, on the future of Test Cricket globally, and on prospects for the forthcoming Ashes.  Questions were then invited from the audience, and they received fulsome responses with both panellists willing to venture candid and, sometimes, contrasting opinions.

Looking for quick runs on Day 4 to allow a declaration, Root and Stokes set about the Windies attack and the declaration came at 361-5 setting a record-breaking 485 needed for the Windies to win this test, Windies lost a wicket in the first over when Campbell could not cope with a fine delivery from Jimmy Anderson.  Despite a staunch resistance against the England bowlers England won the test by 232 runs.  At the post-Match Presentations, Mark Wood was voted Man of the Match, and Kemar Roach took the Man of the Series award.

Again, there was an additional ‘non-cricket’ day, so many clients took up the offer of a complimentary excursion to Soufriere (close to the magnificent Pitons) – with calls at the Touraille Waterfall, the Botanical Gardens, the Sulphur Springs, and lunch at Font Deux Cocoa Plantation. The Dolphin. Manta Ray and Turtle Tours returned to UK on 15th February, with the Stringrays following a day later.

A very mixed bag of cricket for the loyal travellers but a wonderful exploration of the three test locations, memories and friendships made, and many pre-registering for South Africa at the end of the year.

Cat Preston, Andy Stovold and Peter Hodcroft

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