Stumps: West Indies 243-9
Let’s be blunt. Is there any test series which fires the imagination less than England v West Indies in May? In terms of predictability, futility and general drabness, there’s little to compare, save the prospect of an England 50 over world cup campaign.
Everyone approached today’s play with a sense of dreariness, and the sullen weather perfectly suited the mood. Neither side can gain much from these proceedings. West Indies are not going to win the series. If our team wins easily, no one will be impressed. But if we make heavy weather of it, the critics’ knives will be out.
Not that you’d hear such negative talk in the mainstream cricket media. They had to be upbeat in their previews, because if they’re frank about the likely dullness of this series, what reason do we have to watch or read? If you believe Sky Sports, every single match ever played is set to be the most enthralling contest of all time. As a blog, we have the luxury of the freedom to be more candid.
There’s going to be extensive discussion about the composition of England’s XI in this test, especially as on paper the tail is so strong. Swann at ten, for goodness sake. In the eighties, Ted Dexter would have batted him at three. I remember a time when, if Malcolm or Tufnell were playing, Angus Fraser would be at nine. Ah, the good old days.
So, given that we bat deep, why still play six specialist batsmen – so the argument goes – and only four bowlers? And as the visitors are a pretty weak side, why do we need all that batting? The problem with such logic is that the reverse equally applies. Why do we need five bowlers?
Few would advocate us fielding only five bats against South Africa later this summer. Andy Flower could never countenance that, which provides the reason for the selection in this match. The coach and captain seek consistency and stability, rather than chopping and changing from one fixture to another unless the case for it is irresistible. From where I’m sitting, as a spectator, I think they’re right.
At the risk of sounding both arrogant and complacent, England might well beat West Indies, at home, with only four batsmen and three bowlers. Not that we’ll be thrashing them inside two days – on today’s evidence, the visitors have developed more sinew than previously – but there is an almost mechanical inevitability to our pre-eminence over these opponents. Every match is virtually identical, as if generated from a Microsoft Office template. Like in a Bond film, even if the scenery and the cast change, the plot and outcome are always the same.
Today’s play was a classic example. West Indies weren’t dreadful, by any means, but neither were they quite good enough. Whenever they looked like making progress, we pegged them back. Chanderpaul was their best player, and Anderson was ours, although Broad deserved his wickets for the length he found after tea. In the end, England will bowl them out for about 250, which is what everyone expected at the start of play.
Beyond any doubt, Bravo’s run out was the day’s champagne moment, if only for the all-round incompetence and Prior’s diabolical throw. I’d love to have heard his conversation with Swann afterwards. And the incident reminds us how wonderful it will always be to witness professional cricketers playing like complete village idiots.