Wednesday, July 24, 2024

England vs West Indies: Gus Atkinson’s seven-wicket haul shows the future of Ben Stokes’ side is in safe hands

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Making your Test debut at Lord’s is pretty special. Taking a seven-wicket haul on the occasion is sensational.

Surrey seamer Gus Atkinson (7-45) showed England’s Test future is in safe hands as he helped the hosts skittle West Indies for 121 on day one of the first Test at the home of cricket.

The 26-year-old joined the distinguished company of Tom Hartley (vs India, 2024), Josh Tongue (vs Australia, 2023), Rehan Ahmed (vs Pakistan, 2023) and Will Jacks (vs Pakistan, 2022) as England players who have recently taken a five-for on debut, with Atkinson going two scalps further.

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All seven wickets taken by Atkinson on the first day at Lord’s

In his 12 overs, Atkinson bowled 30 dot balls and claimed three wickets in four deliveries at one stage to leave the Lord’s crowd stunned. Four overs later, he took two wickets in three balls as his team-mates and the spectators roared in jubilation.

Gus Atkinson's first innings bowling for England

It was a scene Atkinson admitted he “couldn’t have even dreamt of” when he was presented with his cap from Surrey team-mate Ollie Pope alongside his family in the huddle.

“I was trying to keep as level as possible before and my dad kept saying it was the biggest day of my life,” he said after the close of play.

“I had to tell him to relax because I was trying not to think like that. I was a bit nervous to start but after the first few overs were bowled then I was pretty calm.”

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Highlights from day one of the first Test between England and West Indies

Atkinson took the first two wickets without conceding a run and then became the fifth player on debut under Ben Stokes to claim a five-for. He also sits at the top of that list for the quickest Englishman to achieve the feat, doing it in 53 balls.

Earlier this summer, England’s managing director Rob Key said he would prioritise bowlers who could offer pace as opposed to taking wickets, but Atkinson did both.

He finished with the third-best figures for an Englishman on Test debut, conceding two runs more than pace bowler Dominic Cork, who took 7-43, also against West Indies, in 1995.

Gus Atkinson

Atkinson picked up a wicket with his second ball as he induced a bottom-edge from West Indies’ most experienced Test batter and captain, Kraigg Brathwaite (six) which cannoned onto the stumps for England’s breakthrough.

He started the day bowling cross-seam deliveries but with the pitch drier than expected, he switched to a tighter wobble seam which distributed the left-handers in particular with Kirk McKenzie (one) and Alick Athanaze (23) getting a thick outside edge to Zak Crawley and Jamie Smith respectively.

“My stock ball is that scrambled seam, it felt like today, bowling with the slope, bowling from the Pavilion End, that was my most dangerous ball,” Atkinson added.

“I was targeting fourth stump and trying to run it down the hill and with the left-handers I was trying to push it across them with the odd in-swinger. I felt like that was the best way I could get wickets.

“The seam was probably a bit more scrambled than I’d like but that is something I can work on.

“I feel like I can bowl quicker and hit the pitch harder when I bowl scrambled seam and it’s worked pretty well for me in the past.”

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Nasser Hussain and Stuart Broad discuss Atkinson’s dream debut

Having only played 21 first-class games prior to his Test debut, Atkinson proved England’s scouting system to be a success, a method that uses and prioritises technology above in-person selection.

The same apparatus was used to discover Somerset’s off-spinner Shoaib Bashir, who, like Atkinson, starred on his debut in India earlier this year, leading him to be re-selected for this Test.

What Atkinson does with the ball, Harry Brook (25no) does with the bat. The 25-year-old, who missed the India tour due to personal reasons, returned to the Test fold for the first time since appearing at The Oval against Australia in 2023. The Yorkshireman made an extraordinary start to his own Test career, amassing 809 runs in his first six appearances for England, and looks in good stead to carry England further with the bat.

With James Anderson bowing out after the Lord’s Test, there is a changing of the guard as Stokes’ side look to prepare for The Ashes in 2025, and it is a side which seems not only safe but promising at the hands of England’s youngsters.

Watch day two of the first Test between England and West Indies live on Sky Sports Cricket from 10.15am on Thursday (11am first ball).

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