So what did you think? Considering that we normally lose away from home, and our record in the Caribbean isn’t that hot, I probably would’ve taken a draw before the game. It was even a ‘winning draw’. Sort of. Consequently, this result is a small but very tentative step forward. Sort of.
The main talking point, however, was probably the pitch. It was poor and not conducive to exciting cricket. It offered the seamers little, the spinners relatively little, and it didn’t really deteriorate (which might have enhanced the spectacle), either. It was probably the last thing that Test cricket needed after the dull as dust encounter between Pakistan and Australia in Karachi.
Considering the conditions, however, it wasn’t a terrible game. Both teams kept going admirably and there were decent hundreds from Bonner, Root, and Crawley. The performance of the latter was probably the most significant.
Young Zak is obviously a mercurial player but there’s no doubting his ability. With the selectors unable to glean much from championship cricket played during spring and autumn months, they could probably do worse than plucking naturally talented cricketers from nowhere and trying to develop them on the fly.
I’ve seen enough from Crawley to know that the potential reward for investing in him could be extremely high. Such investments obviously come with a risk, though. He sometimes looks all at sea defensively, and he probably plays too many shots early in his innings. However, it’s nice to see an England opener show some attacking intent. And when Crawley comes off it’s usually very entertaining to watch. I was as pleased as punch to see him do well.
The second innings performance by Dan Lawrence was another positive. I was particularly impressed by his lofted shots over extra cover. That’s normally the sign of a very good player. The match situation worked in his favour, of course, but again he showed enough to suggest that he may have a future. We shall see.
Finally, a few words on Jack Leach. He’ll never be Hedley Verity, we all know that, but he yet again showed that he’s by far the best spin option currently available and he can do a very solid job in Test cricket. He’s accurate, he spins it just enough, but like most slow bowlers he needs overs under his belt and the confidence of his captain and coach.
I’m hoping that Jack can now move on from the Chris Silverwood era, in which he was managed poorly, and become the reliable spin option that England need. Unlike Moeen Ali he offers control as well as a wicket taking threat in the second innings, and although some people understandably remain enticed by Matt Parkinson, there’s no guarantee that the Lancashire leggie will develop as we all hope. England’s record at developing leg spinners is appalling.
England’s seam bowling in this game didn’t look so promising, however. I still find it beyond crazy that both Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad were stuck at home twiddling their thumbs. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that it wasn’t a cricketing decision. Why on earth would any sane judge leave out so much quality and experience in order to take a closer look at Chris Woakes, who has always struggled overseas, and Craig Overton? We know exactly what these bowlers bring to the table and they’ll never be anything more than support bowlers away from home. What’s more, England just don’t seem ready to trust Mahmood yet – which is perfectly fair as he’s played very little first class cricket in his career to date.
I’m now pretty concerned about the immediate future of England’s fast bowling stocks. Mark Wood has picked up an injury, again, and there’s really no point hoping that Olly Stone will play anything more than a handful of games. His body has left him down time and again throughout his career.
Although Jofra Archer and Ollie Robinson would surely have added something to England’s attack in Antigua, there are question marks about these guys, too. We don’t know if Archer will want to prioritse white ball cricket long term – one could hardly blame him considering his treatment so far – and I find it a tad worrying that Robinson has been a professional cricketer for several years but lacks fitness. It’s just weird. How much does he want it?
So now we move on to Barbados, which is usually a great place for visiting fans. We might even get a game with atmosphere for a change. Can England pull of a win? It’s possible I suppose. But overall I think these teams are fairly evenly matched (on the evidence of the first Test anyway). Therefore, whoever plays the best will win.
Before I sign off, I’ll just leave that thought hanging in the air. The West Indies and England are evenly matched. That’s the West Indies, whose board has been broke and beset by political problems for years, and England, who are rolling in cash and have far greater resources. It’s a pretty damning state of affairs. Maybe Tom Harrison could explain that one before he picks up his ill-deserved bonus?
After the first innings were complete, someone posted on the BBC cricket blog words to the effect of “England now have a well-balanced side – the bowling is now as bad as the batting”.
Yeah it was ok, but spectacle wise offered nothing from the start of day 4. A bore draw. And yet people said it was a good declaration. Really? 288 at over 4 an over on that wicket. I don’t think so, and neither did the Windies. A declaration needs to offer a carrot to the batting side balanced with an acceptable risk of losing to the bowling side. 250 at the most.
I’m not sure you can really judge an England “reset” (who thought of that one?) on such a flat pitch. Boycotts mum probably would have a hit a ton on it.
But Crawley looks ok, not sure what Lee’s is doing in the side. As for the bowling..well James has said it all and I agree.
But one thing what on earth was Root doing flogging Stokes into the ground when frankly they should have shook hands an hour early? I know they were a bowler down but did Captain Brainless really think they’d take 6 wickets in an hour on that track? If he’s not careful he’ll end up like Archer.
A good one James. Telling it exact like it is. I always enjoy your posts. Hitting the nail on the head. About Foakes. I was surprised to see his few mishaps, but in general he gave impressive stuff. Standing up to the quicks and that awesome catch. A good move. Buttler might come back but at the moment he is shot. Give Foakes a go.
Fair and balanced, James – your first paragraph pretty much sums up my feelings too !
2 pretty ordinary batting sides made decent scores against decent bowling on a remarkably unresponsive Caribbean wicket. But it was good to see some old school test cricket paying dividends, with grafting knocks building decent scores and accurate bowlers restricting runs.
Always felt Wood was an accident waiting to happen after his exertions in the Ashes and even he found it hard going on a slow wicket. Would have liked to see Anderson bowling in that cross wind but don’t think Broad would have made much difference. Good to see Crawley making runs but think he could end up as a number 3, as not sure about Root at 3. Opening still looks an issue, prefer Burns to Lees, who looks vulnerable when the ball’s pitched up. Also good to see Stokes bowling overs without apparent injury. Best of all though was watching a proper keeper behind the stumps for us and him making a more significant batting contribution than Buttler. Hopefully he will be able to cement his place for the summer.
For them Holder looks a class act but the rest is pretty much of a muchness, nothing to be frightened of. It looks set to be an interesting series, shame it’s not a 5 test one.
I very much agree with you about Crawley. For me, it’s Crawley at 3 and Root at 4. I am a strong believer in playing your best players in their best positions, rather than throwing them at problem areas, if only because that seldom works.
I also agree about Foakes. The difference between him and Buttler in terms of Test average is 0.75. When you add in Foakes’s keeping – and the sheer joy of watching a top class specialist keeper in action – that more than makes up the difference.
Last time WI served up pitches where the matches were over in three days and this time they serve up something slow and dead. Is it really so hard to make a pitch somewhere in-between?
Leach can’t seem to win with some in the media. In Australia they said if he can’t take wickets he must over control and when he offers control they cry “boring!”. He took 5 wickets to the home spinner’s zero and had a crucial catch dropped.
A few other random observations: it’s worrying that Lees was dismissed the same way in both innings – he didn’t seem to learn; Foakes made a useful score first innings but his glovework wasn’t that impressive and I felt the home keeper looked better; I still think No.3 is Crawley’s best position; Stokes lloked by far England’s best seamer and ended up bowling too many overs as a result.
Notice that the test team isn’t made priority, they’re selling it as if all formats have equal priority. Buy that bridge they’re also selling if you believe that. It might be noted as well that they’re using the word ‘reset’ although not yet apparently prefixed by ‘great’.
I think your final point there James is the most telling; and on top of the fact that the Windies organisational structure has been in chaos, we’re regularly told that red ball cricket is no longer a priority for most of their players coming through. Yet, the Windies still produce a red ball side that can compete with the resources of English cricket, while having a strong white ball setup.
Why England cannot simultaneously maintain decent white ball and test sides is beyond me, given the resources and cash available that you mention. This is an over-simplification on my part, but I find it telling that our greatest successes in either format have generally resulted in enormous decline in the other; within a few short years of the test side being number 1 in the world, ODI side was a laughing stock. And the on the flip side of that, the World Cup triumph of 2019, and the strength of the current T20 and ODI sides is in stark contrast to the abysmal test side we currently have.
If the resources available still mean that success can only be achieved with gargantuan pushes in one direction or another, at the neglect of all else, yet the Windies with all their organisational and political challenges can regularly compete with us across the board, then something is very very wrong
I have always had respect for Sir Andrew Strauss, however as an interim Managing Director, it was not his place to make the call on Broad and Anderson. If this is where it ends for these 2 legends after all they have done for English cricket, then it is very sad indeed. After 1 win in 15, England need to be picking their best side to win each game…talking of which, it is about time James Vince is given another opportunity…
Speaking of bad pitches, Pakistan aren’t doing themselves any favours.
I’m glad Australia are touring Pakistan again, and when Pakistan are playing well, they add immensely to world cricket.
But wickets like that are a disaster for Test cricket.
your article is so convincing that I can’t stop myself to say something about it. You’re doing a great job Man, Keep it up.
Vy good overview and thank you for defending Jack Leach, I believe he is a quality bowler, not world class but as you say more than capable. He is certainly not mentally fragile, an epic 1 not out and the fact he plays international sport with Crohn’s disease is testement to that! Any loss of confidence is down to the management who have mistreated his talent in the past. England must play their best team in each Test match and that undoubtedly contains Leach, Foakes and a couple of legends inexplicably left at home.