Sat, 08 Aug 2020

Who is Jermaine Blackwood?

13 Jul 2020, 04:52 GMT+10

Who is Jermaine Blackwood?

A 28-year-old middle-order batsman from Jamaica, Blackwood is a natural stroke maker, having played more than 100 first-class games in his career.

He was the leading run-scorer in the 2013-14 domestic first-class season in West Indies, and on the back of that form, Blackwood made his Test debut in June 2014, during the home Test series against New Zealand, where he made 63 on debut.

A regular in the side until the tour of Zimbabwe in October 2017, he made nine fifties and a hundred (against England, in 2015) but fell off the radar thereafter, having scored just 15 runs in his last five innings in that period, and been dropped by the side.

Strong performances in the domestic first-class system kept Blackwood within touching distance of the West Indies first XI, but barring a brief appearance as a concussion substitute against India in 2019, he did not make the team until the first Test against England in Southampton.

How did Blackwood make the cut for the first Test?

Before the pandemic curtailed the 2020 first-class season in West Indies after eight matches, right-handed batsman Blackwood was the tournament's highest run scorer, pummelling 768 runs in 15 innings for Jamaica, which included a double hundred against Leeward Islands in the tournament's last match.

Roger Harper, West Indies' chairman of selectors said ahead of the tour that Blackwood marked a return to the side "on the sheer weight" of his first-class performances. Harper had also praised Blackwood's "patience and consistency" in 2020.

But Blackwood might not have featured in the series at all, had it not been for the decision made by Shimron Hetmyer and Darren Bravo to not tour England. That meant Blackwood made the 14-man squad for the Test series as a middle-order replacement for the players who did not travel. That said, Blackwood made only 62 runs in four innings during the tourists' intra-squad warm-up games, and might have been the man left out if West Indies had opted to play a specialist spinner in Rahkeem Cornwall.

What special relationship does Blackwood share with England?

Blackwood's only Test century came in 2015 when England were touring the Caribbean, and over 41% of his Test runs have come against them.

Including his match-winning 95 in the fourth innings at Southampton, Blackwood has made three fifties and a hundred against England. His average of 55 against England is the best among all current West Indies players and stands behind only Lawrence Rowe, George Headley, Viv Richards, Brian Lara and Garry Sobers.

His unbeaten 112 at North Sound in 2015 earned West Indies victory and his 85 in the third Test at Bridgetown set things up for the hosts before he hit the winning runs in the fourth innings.

When West Indies toured England in 2017, Blackwood's 79 at Birmingham was the lone contribution of note as West Indies slumped to defeat in the first Test after Alastair Cook pumped 243 in the first innings. After that, he made crucial contributions of 49 and 41 in the Headingley Test that followed, which West Indies won on the back of twin centuries from Shai Hope.

And with an opportunity presented in 2020, Blackwood delivered again with a fourth-innings 95 to help West Indies navigate out of a tricky chase and help them take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.

What's changed in Blackwood's game?

Blackwood entered the Test series believing he had something to prove. Ahead of the series, he said that his new batting mantra was to "bat as long as possible" as he wished to change the "wrong impressions" people had of him.

"It's been two-and-a-half years that I've been out of the Test team," Blackwood had said during the intra-squad warm-up game West Indies played before the first Test. "This opportunity has come out and I have to grab it with both hands. I have something to go out there and prove against all the best bowlers in the world, I want to score runs against them."

Before the squad flew out to England, Blackwood had stated what changes he had made to his game. "Right now, it's a more determined Jermaine Blackwood and a more focused Jermaine Blackwood," he said. "Being dropped helped me to go back and work on my game and my mental space, and to come back strong. It wasn't anything too much to do with the technical aspect of batting, just some little tweaks. But the mental side, I had to change a bit. I did a lot of reading just to help my mental space going forward. That's really helped me."

After the intra-squad game, he said: "It's about patience for me, spending lots of time in the middle. That doesn't say if I get a bad ball I won't put it to the boundary. I don't change too much of my shot selection. It's just staying a bit more patient, batting a lot of deliveries - trying to bat for a whole day, or a day-and-a-half."

Blackwood did that magnificently against a hostile pace attack led by Jofra Archer on the final day of the Southampton Test. Despite falling just five runs short of a second Test hundred, his 95 was the first page of a new chapter in Blackwood's Test career as West Indies took the series lead.

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