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England v West Indies: Series set for wonderful finale

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Highlights as Ben Stokes impresses in England’s second test victory over the West Indies.

For England to bounce back from their first-Test defeat against West Indies, win the second and level the series is a really good achievement.

To do it following the Jofra Archer disruption and after losing an entire day to rain makes it even more impressive.

They were helped a little by West Indies, who picked a tired attack, chose to bowl first and were blunted by centuries from Dom Sibley and Ben Stokes at Emirates Old Trafford.

The Test that Stokes had – 254 runs, three big wickets and a catch – led England captain Joe Root to call him “Mr Incredible”.

Root is right – Stokes is incredible.

In the future, we might look back on his first-innings 176 and think it was a typical blazing Stokes hundred.

That was not the case at all. He read the situation of the game throughout, going up and down the gears depending on the conditions, whether or not he was in a partnership and the time wickets were falling.

Then, in the second innings, he did something completely different. With England needing quick runs, he was promoted to open the batting, which he has never done in a Test, and cracked 78 not out from 57 balls.

That ability to change the way he plays really does make him the complete batsman.

Stokes’ technique is built on rock-solid defence. The feet move; the head is over the ball.

When he wants to flick the switch, his scintillating hand speed gives him the confidence to hit sixes even when all nine fielders are on the boundary. That dynamic side of his game is so exciting.

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Stokes smashes quickfire 78 for England

Almost all other batsmen can be classified in one way or another. The way they play, their tempo, the areas in which they score their runs.

The way you can classify Stokes is by saying he is the complete player. He can batten down the hatches and he can tear an attack apart.

All of this before you even consider his tireless bowling and electrifying fielding.

In this Test, with England short of a fast bowler on a placid pitch, Stokes stepped up. At one point, he sent down more than 50 bouncers in an 11-over spell. The old bowler in me knows just how great a toll that would have taken on his body.

Stokes’ bowling is based on strength and stamina. He is a voracious trainer. A bionic man.

At one point on the fifth day, he bowled a delivery, did the fielding with a chase to the boundary and dive, then got up and bowled the next ball. What an asset he is to the England team.

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Serious commitment – Stokes sprints to save boundary off own bowling

Along with Stokes, England were indebted to Stuart Broad, the pace bowler omitted from the first Test.

Broad’s response to being left out at the Ageas Bowl, so vocally telling the selectors he would prove them wrong when he got his next chance, put him under enormous pressure.

He put himself in a position where he could have looked very silly had it all gone wrong.

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However, for Broad to then deliver with two crucial three-wicket spells tells you everything you need to know about his competitiveness and desire.

England are now left with a ticklish selection decision for the series decider, which begins at the same ground on Friday. Not just on Broad, but also Chris Woakes and Sam Curran, who played their part in the second-Test win.

With the series on the line, you would have to expect England to pick their strongest team. But do they know what that is?

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Dowrich lbw to give Woakes 100th wicket

Providing Archer is in good shape after five days in isolation, I would pick him, Broad and James Anderson in the pace attack.

Will England do that? They seem to have a rotation policy in mind, but the players will not be interested in rotation. If they are fit and performing, they will want to play.

There are only so many times you can tell an international sportsman he is not playing and that it is for his own good.

Players need faith in the integrity of the selection process. If they know the best team is being picked, the players being left out will be disappointed, but they will be able to accept the decision more easily if they know it has been taken for the right reasons.

Once players lose faith in the selection process, there is a problem.

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Pope’s brilliant catch seals victory for England

West Indies also have decisions to make. Can they really ask the same pace bowlers to turn out again? Shannon Gabriel looked so weary, and Alzarri Joseph may have a problem too.

Will they play off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall? He would certainly add a different dimension to their attack.

What we can say with certainty is it is fitting for the series to be heading into a deciding match.

We have said throughout how grateful we are for West Indies to have made the trip to England amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the players from both sides deserve great credit for producing some quality cricket given the lack of preparation and atmosphere.

England may feel like they have the upper hand given they have the most recent victory, but West Indies have the chance of a first series win here in 32 years and must not be written off.

We are in for a wonderful finale.

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport’s Stephan Shemilt.

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