Yesterday was a good day for England. Most of our batsmen got runs and the scoreboard look’s healthy. But this statement comes with a caveat. Have we left ourselves enough time to bowl the West Indies out? Hmmmm. We’ll get to that in a bit.
First let’s talk about the individual batsmen. What did you think of Trott? Personally I thought he looked pretty solid. His half-century will do him the world of good, and once again it took a useful delivery to get him out. But did he accelerate enough when set?
Next we come to the skipper. Cook looked a lot more composed out there, and despite his quirky method he looked relatively assured (that’s relative to his recent performances).
I wonder how much this had to do with the nature of the Windies’ attack though? Spin was the order of the day for much of Cook’s innings – not quality pace bowling – and we all know he’s a very capable player of spinners.
The pace of Cook’s innings also concerned me. Was he playing for himself or the team? Yesterday seemed to be about one thing: whether Cook could finally get a hundred. It was the only subject social media was talking about, and very much the focus Sky’s commentary team.
On one level this is understandable – Cook’s poor form has been a massive talking point for the last two years. It’s extraordinary that any specialist batsman can go 34 innings without a ton. Ordinary mortals are dropped in half that time. Captain’s have resigned for far less.
However, I found the preoccupation with Cook’s pursuit of three figures disturbing. England had a game to win. Grumpy Bob hit the nail on the head when he said England’s scoring rate in the first session was unsatisfactory. Yet this went almost unnoticed.
I hope people don’t regard Cook’s failure to reach three figures as a failure. The bottom line is that he scored runs. They were somewhat fortuitous – much like his runs against India last summer – but he got there in the end. I doubt people will remember that he was dropped on Wednesday evening and that he was stone dead LBW just before lunch. Hallelujah for the idiosyncrasies of Hawkeye’s predictive tracking system! The scorebook says he scored 75. That’s enough to ease some pressure for now.
In some ways, the earlier part of Balance’s innings fall into the same bracket. At 125-1 England could have done with a little impetus. The balance of England’s top three is a worry, and one wonders whether Adam Lyth would make a difference – just to split up the three snails.
However, Ballance looked a different player once Root strode to the wicket. Root looked totally assured, raised the tempo, and England never looked back. Suddenly, Ballance also started to find the middle of the bat.
For someone who hangs on the back foot, England’s number three drives with beautiful fluidity. Cook would do well copy him. I’ve also been mightily impressed with the sudden transformation in Ballance’s game. He was jittery and uncoordinated in the first innings at Antigua, yet he’s rediscovered his Midas touch after a single good score. This is what we hoped would happen with Cook. I suppose the skipper is a more complicated case.
As for Joe Root, what else is there to say? He looks England’s best player by a country mile. He’s the key man in the order. It’s hard to tell how much these runs are worth – this Windies attack obviously isn’t the best – but my hopes for him are high. The acid test will come later this year.
I’ve probably rambled on for too long now, so I won’t go into too much detail from here. Basically Mo looked nervous – so nervous that he ran himself out. And Stokes seemed up for the fight … literally. I think we can forget about calling him ‘Gentle’ Ben. His spat with Samuels was a tad unsightly.
Now comes the million-dollar question. How many more runs do we need, and how long do we need to bowl the Windies out?
Given that four sessions wasn’t enough to bowl them out in Antigua – and given that this pitch is even slower – we might need close to five sessions to force a result. Do we have enough time?
In an ideal world, Cook will want a lead of two hundred. This means we’ll need an additional 130 runs before lunch – a tall order I’m sure you’ll agree. Basically, I fear the top order has left the lower order with too much to do.
What’s more, England could easily get bowled out cheaply this morning in the pursuit of quick runs. Although this might actually hasten a result, it could leave us with a tricky run chase on day five.
Basically, I’m not sure the equation is a simple one. It might take a special performance from one of our bowlers to force a win – not an easy task on this turgid pitch.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Cook ends up with no ton AND no win.
Thoughts? Feel free to add your comments as day four progresses.