When Joe Root weighs up the timing of his declaration this morning (and we certainly hope it’s this morning!) he must ask himself this one fundamental and all-important question. Is drawing at home against the West Indies an acceptable result? Because if England don’t win this Test match then a draw is the very best we can hope for in this series.
If I was answering this question then the answer would be “no”. In fact, it would be a firm “hell no”. The Windies are, after all, ranked 8th in the ICC Test rankings with only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe below them. If England want to say they’re making progress with a straight face then we should be beating financially weaker teams at home without breaking sweat. Indeed, we haven’t failed to beat the Windies at home since 1995.
Consequently, Joe Root’s declaration simply has to be brave. It has to be a statement of intent and ambition not just for this game but for the future too. There should be no messing around. He needs to give his bowlers every opportunity to win the game without contemplating defeat. After all, failing to win this game (and drawing the series at best) would be a form of defeat anyway.
So what equation would you like to see? Personally I would bat for about 45 minutes this morning and set the Windies at total of around 275. That should be plenty on a pitch that’s beginning to assist the bowlers.
Waiting for a lead of 300 would be far too cautious. If England want to bat the Windies out of the Test match altogether (with a lead of 320 odd) then it’s going to take at least an hour and a half. And that’s time we don’t have.
When working out these equations it’s important to remember that this isn’t an ODI. The fielding captain can slow down the run rate and put his fielders anywhere. What’s more, this pitch isn’t the usual belter we see in limited overs affairs. Batting won’t be easy (for either team).
Scoring 275 to win in 80 overs would seem like a simple equation in an ODI but the fifth day of a Test match is a very different affair. Lose a couple of wickets and the Windies will soon abandon all thoughts of chasing the runs. A draw is a good result for them.
What’s more, waisting this precious opportunity to win the game would be such a shame after our bowlers’ superb performance yesterday afternoon and evening. The catalyst, of course, was Stuart Broad who finally found his rhythm in his first competitive game for months. His legs were pumping, his intent was clear, and every delivery seemed to say “have that, Ed Smith”.
The other bowlers also found some form after looking pretty innocuous earlier in proceedings. Sam Curran persisted admirably – he possesses little pace but no little skill – and Chris Woakes also found his groove in his last spell.
Ben Stokes also looked dangerous in limited action. Why didn’t he bowl earlier? I assume it’s because England want to use him as a safety value or plan C if the others seamers can’t get quite get the job done. Considering Stokes’s immense workload I don’t think this is a bad strategy.
Dom Bess also toiled away determinedly. He wasn’t quite landing it as well as he did in South Africa but I still think he’s a cricketer who offers a great deal. He’s learning and he’ll get there.
It’s a shame, however, that there was no room in the XI for Jack Leach. England’s management mustn’t forget that Leach is the best pure spinner available in the country. We could’ve used Leach yesterday for sure. I wouldn’t go back to Moeen Ali because, although his record at home is good, he doesn’t offer much control and I doubt he’s going to suddenly start developing as a bowler at this stage of his career. It would be a regressive move.
I sense that today could be a really interesting day if, and it’s a big IF, England time the declaration correctly. Get it right and we could be in for a treat. Leave it too late and today could be about as interesting as day three.
Don’t let us down, Joe. Show some character. And show some ambition.