Some might call TFT and its readers pessimists. And to be fair they’re probably right. There’s been a lot to grumble about in recent years, from the ECB’s marginalisation of the championship to their irritating and elitist tendency to hire yes men or men cut from a certain kind of cloth (you know what I mean) to top off-field jobs. This makes me a tad cantankerous. And because I’m in a bad mood generally I have a habit of looking at events through a somewhat cynical lens.
Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away, however. England did, after all, win impressively in St Lucia this week. And that’s got to be a good thing, right? A 0-3 whitewash against a team ranked as low as the Windies would have been unthinkable. So at least the team has partially atoned for its abysmal performances earlier in the tour. Going into an Ashes series after a whitewash against a team packed full of fast bowlers would’ve been an extremely bad omen.
Although I still feel that England have had a poor winter – we’re still no closer to solving the team’s main problems – I’m beginning to accept that these problems simply cannot be solved. After all, it’s impossible to find a competent top 3 when you play so little domestic first class cricket on good pitches at the optimum time of year; consequently I’m beginning to moderate my expectations somewhat.
What’s more, the two things that are solvable – the occasional incompetence of our management team (which misread conditions so badly at Barbados) and Ed Smith the nutty professor’s penchant for all-rounders – were revealed for all to see in the Caribbean. And now they’ve been exposed, one hopes they can be put right.
And that, I guess, is some form of progress. At least it only cost us a series against a likeable team everyone wants to do well, rather than a team everyone loves to hate. A team like, you know, Australia.
So in the spirit of optimism – a perspective I admit doesn’t entirely feel comfortable to me (!) – I’m going to pass you over to Alex. As someone younger than me i.e. someone who didn’t grow up watching cricket in the late 1980s and early 90s, his views are considerably less jaundiced. And as such he’s far better qualified to put a positive spin on England’s victory in St Lucia (and the tour in general) than I. So here’s his take …
England won the Third Test in St Lucia because everything clicked together.
The bowlers – in particular Mark Wood – bowled well. The batsmen – in particular Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes in the first innings and Joe Root, Joe Denly and Buttler again in the second got it right, too.
While the catching still left plenty to be desired (Buttler and Rory Burns need to have a long hard look at themselves after their spills on Tuesday), England played well and won convincingly.
And yet, everyone is still fuming.
“Why couldn’t they play like that in the first two Tests?’ they ask.
Yes things broke England’s way in this game. The fact that Holder was banned for the Windies’ slow over-rate, and Paul got injured mid-match leaving his team a bowler short, definitely helped us. But England did play better, too.
Joe Root dug in instead of throwing his bat at just about everything, and the others showed more application as well. Root’s hundred was a (bit of) an answer to the critics, and certainly made the sunburnt masses out in Caribbean smile.
Then, of course was the bowling. People might ask “Why wasn’t Mark Wood brought on the original touring party?’ but I think it was understandable. Here’s my take.
Before his amazing spell in the first innings, which combined beautiful bowling with German Autobahn-speed, Wood had struggled for wickets, control, and fitness during his England career. Consequently, when fellow speedster and probable debutant Olly Stone dropped out with injury before the first Test, England were faced with a conundrum. Yes they made a mistake by going in with three spinners (and it cost them) but they did immediately try to put things right in Antigua.
But instead of bringing in the Geordie Flamethrower straight away, they turned first to Stuart Broad. This was an impeccable decision. Broad got virtually no reward (Buttler dropped an easy one in that Test, too) but he bowled extremely well. Wood was also nowhere to be seen partly because England – after a disastrous collapse in the first Test, opted to keep Sam Curran in the XI and bolster their batting. This was understandable as Wood can’t bat to save his life and his test career with the ball up to this point had been unspectacular.
In the dead rubber, however, it was more logical to bring Wood in. England had nothing to lose, and Wood had everything to gain. The Geordie Flamethrower burnt the Windies in an amazing first-innings, four-wicket spell that sent player upon player scampering back to the pavilion. They were much safer in there rather than facing the music in the middle.
Supporters can be extremely fickle sometimes. Everyone now sees Wood as our Ashes saviour. Sam Curran, on the other hand, has gone from golden boy to “not good enough to play Test Cricket”.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Wood could indeed be the man to give David Warner and Steve Smith some chin music this summer. And I agree we need some firepower to combat Starc, Hazelwood and Cummins, who undoubtedly will make the ball sing (hopefully without adding sugar, as Stuart Broad might say). But it’s important to keep expectations realistic.
Being England fans, we always get too high after a win and too low after a loss. And we’ll probably always try to find things to moan about. But my view is this: cheer up! Because – as someone told me on Twitter (@viewfromamerica, by the way) – 2-1 is a lot better than 3-0.
Yes problems remain. But most team have problems. And that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying a rare test win away from home.
James Morgan & Alex Ferguson