Joy and Misery

Only hardcore England fans who struggle to appreciate the bigger picture will be mourning today. Yesterday’s dramatic finish at Headingley was good for cricket and brilliant for the West Indies in particular.

A week ago I almost wrote a piece discussing whether the Windies should be stripped of their test status. I wasn’t going to advocate doing so but I thought it might be time to at least have a conversation about it. Thank heavens I resisted. It would’ve looked mighty stupid now.

Yesterday’s result was completely unexpected. A Windies win looked ridiculously far-fetched before a ball was bowled, and because of Moeen Ali’s brilliant innings on Monday, it looked almost as far fetched at the start of day five. Let’s not forget that the Windies hadn’t won a test in England for 17 long years. And they’ve got substantially worse (by every possible metric) since then.

Consequently their win at Headingley must rank as one of the biggest upsets in test history. Their brilliant batting in both innings seemed utterly unfathomable after their lamentable effort at Edgbaston, where they lost 19 wickets in a day. England weren’t just expected to win by miles; everyone simply assumed they would.

What was even more remarkable was that the Windies dropped so many catches. Theirs wasn’t a perfect performance by any means. They basically fell apart in the field on day 4 and their bowlers’ heads dropped alarmingly. Yet they still won. Why? Because two of their batsmen had the matches of their lives.

Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite were magnificent in this match. Any number of superlatives wouldn’t do their performances justice. Brathwaite was dogged, determined, and grittier than a gravel driveway. Shai Hope was breathtaking. A new star has been born.

I can’t believe a player as good as Hope only averaged in the teens a week ago. His batting has real panache and he also played very sensibly for a youngster. Let’s hope that Shai turns into the new Richie Richardson rather than the next Mark Ramprakash … who also once scored a beautiful hundred in a test match between these teams. I’d love Hope to back up this performance and become a real role model for West Indies cricket. Every country needs an icon for the game to prosper.

As for England … where does one start? Losing like this, at home, at an idiosyncratic ground like Headingley, to opponents ranked 8th in the world (opponents that hadn’t beaten anyone above them in the rankings for almost a decade), is utterly humiliating. We were expected to win big after our victory at Edgbaston. Instead we were sent packing by a perceived minnow whose best players don’t seem to care about test cricket. It doesn’t get much worse than that.

Although there’s no shame in losing when two individuals play so brilliantly – shit can happen I guess – Joe Root looked crestfallen in the post-match interviews. And so he should. His team remain infuriatingly inconsistent in the long form. One day England look like world-beaters and potential Ashes winners; the next they look as ordinary as flat pint that’s been sitting beneath a chair on the western terrace all day.

I don’t want to be too harsh on Root, as most people agreed with his decision to bat first on day one and then declare on the fourth evening, but both choices backfired dramatically … and he knows it. By batting first England’s fragile top order were exposed to the best bowling conditions in the match. Everyone thought the pitch would deteriorate but the team innings totals increased as the game progressed: 258, 427, 490-8 dec, and then 322-5. Oooops.

I wonder if Joe had considered this when he decided to declare? I don’t blame him for making a positive decision (most observers including myself would’ve done the same) but I do think that England’s braintrust underestimated the opposition. Put it this way, would Root have declared in such circumstances had England been 1-0 up in an Ashes series? I doubt it. He would’ve looked at the likes of Warner and Smith and paused for thought.

Although most people will blame England’s top order novices for this defeat, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. Stoneman made a gutsy half-century in the second dig and Malan also dug in admirably when England were overcoming their first innings deficit. Tom Westley failed again – he looks mentally shot I’m afraid – but one batsman having an off-game isn’t unusual.

Instead I blame the bowlers for this shocking result. Once again we struggled to take wickets on a blameless surface – a failure we’d almost forgotten about after a summer in which ball has generally dominated bat. Broad had a poor game, Stokes wasn’t able to fulfil his role as ‘the enforcer’ (whatever that means), and Woakes was good with the bat but extremely disappointing with the ball.

Long-term I still think Woakes should play ahead of Toby Roland-Jones. He’s quicker, he’s a better fielder, and a much better batsman. However, the Woakes that played at Leeds wasn’t the same one we’ve grown to appreciate in recent times. He was operating at 80% and didn’t look match-fit. In fact, he looked a lot like the ineffective Woakes who struggled at the start of his England career: medium pace and about as intimidating as his football team, Aston Villa.

The selectors and management must take responsibility for Woakes’ inclusion. It was a poor decision that backfired dramatically. After all, if you’re going to play a bowler like Toby Roland-Jones anywhere in the country, it would be at Headingley – a ground that’s traditionally favoured bowlers who pitch it up.

Once again I think England underestimated the West Indies. They probably selected Woakes because they thought they’d win whoever they picked. Although TRJ had done brilliantly thus far, they wanted to get Woakes back in fold because they expected him to play a prominent role this winter. In other words, they were looking ahead rather than focusing on the game in hand.

The good news, however, is that Australia have their own problems at the moment. They’ve just lost to Bangladesh by 20 runs in Dhaka after losing their last 6 wickets for 57 runs. Perhaps this winter’s Ashes series won’t be a battle of heavyweights after all. Bangladesh against the West Indies on the other hand …

If they ever introduce two divisions in test cricket, they might have to rethink which teams will start in the second tier.

James Morgan


  • It’s West Indies’ day, let’s give them credit. Brathwaite and Hope were (as you say) terrific. Hope is the first player to score 2 centuries in a first class (not just test) match at Headingley. Talk nah, Sir Geoffrey. Brathwaite came close to pipping him. Roach and Gabriel (first innings) outbowled England (who generally pitch it a bit too short at Headingley – it’s not the first time this has happened). Holder supported well, and was dangerous (he’s no Joel Garner, but …). Now, if the West Indies Board could get itself sorted out (Darren Bravo’s description of Board president Dave Cameron as a “big idiot” may have been undiplomatic, but it was accurate), West Indies could address the weaknesses in their team, as follows: Gayle, Brathwaite, DM Bravo, S Hope, Samuels, Chase, Russell, Dowrich, Holder, Roach, Gabriel. That team has a mixture of youth and experience (Gayle has played 100 tests for WI, with an average of 42, around the same as Desmond Haynes). Russell’s inclusion allows you to play 4 seamers with Chase as the spinner, and I think it might be competitive.

    Anyway, roll on Lord’s.

  • The clue is in your phrase ‘everyone assumed they would’ . Ok after the lamentable first Test this is an understandable teaction, but we have seen this attitude in the England camp before, most recently in the series with SA when having won the first Test they assumed the rest would be the same. They then get a nasty shock and realise they had better concentrate a bit more and not take their opponents for granted. If asked not a single member of the England team would admit to thinking the next game against the West Indies would be easy, but they were thinking it, I guarantee.

    I am lucky enough to be retired and, with a quiet week, I was able to watch all five days and I loved every minute of it. Test cricket at its best and, cor me anyway, the right result. Wo derful stuff.

    • I must admit I thought South Africa would provide a sterner test than they did, so I’m not sure that was (or should have been) complacency. West Indies, you may well be correct.

      I get my cricket via TMS and Cricinfo, but I utterly agree that it was a brilliant test match, and the right result. West Indies won 4 days out of 5 (England won the 4th day).

      One last point: Root has had some criticism for his declaration. I hope he doesn’t listen to it. Had England bowled well on the last day, and held their catches, West Indies would almost certainly have lost.

      Now on to Lord’s, where this game (almost the same as the test just finished) happened a few years ago.

      • I have no problem with Root’s declaration. Thought it was a bold move and in view of the Windies performance in the afternoon when they were visibly tiring and looked shot, it looked ok. Who knew how they would bounce back the next day!

  • Agree, the admission of TRJ for Woakes was a major cock up on that wicket. A bit of complacency crept in with England. And you know, I just don’t think they are as good as they, and we, think. On a good batting track Anderson and Broad are sometimes not all that effective. Broad doesn’t pitch the ball up enough. With Stokes, Moen and especially Woakes having an off day, well….. In saying that Stokes can make something happen and 5 overs was a bit short measure.

    But what a game, best test of he summer by far, and much better than the one sided S. Africa series. A new West Indies? I hope so. Test cricket needs it and it’ll sod up the ridiculous two division suggestion.

      • Dennis Does Cricket has an interesting table on his facebook page. Over the last 4 years England have played 50 games, won 19 and lost 23. That’s not a statistic I’ve heard Botham et al. mention.

        • It’s a poor record for one of the richest nations in the game. Yet all is rosy in the garden, right?

  • Well done, the Windies – and very good for cricket. I am especially glad because England’s cheating (slowing the game down in the hope that bad light would stop play) came to naught.

    Excellent suggestion from a lady spectator passed on via TMS – if the floodlights take over, replace the red ball with a similarly-worn pink ball and play on, taking light out of the equation altogether. Brilliant in its simplicity.

  • Re. two (or even three divisions) – very bad idea, as it will inevitably lead to “passporting” by weaker teams’ better players (eg a brilliant young Afghan leg-spinner will “discover” he is descended from a British soldier based there in the 19th. century and claim the right to play for England).

  • I hope this result as well as the Bangladesh result consigns the two tier idea to the rubbish heap. Upsets like these are good for cricket all round, and lesser team can only improve if they play against better teams. Great 24 hours all round for test cricket.

    • Michael Holding is adamant there should be a two tier test system.
      He talked about a fixture list where you could still play sides in the other division though, Can’t quite remember how he structured it but he was very vocal. Nasser very much agreed with you

  • As a cricket fan I was pleased with the result as the international game needs a strong Windies team. There was nothing jammy about the result – it was hard and deservedly won. I’m not going to criticise Root’s declaration and I hope he doesn’t now retreat into full-on negative mode. The selectors need to ask themselves some hard questions, though.

    • The England selectors are hardly a blameless bunch, but I think it’s 50/50 on this occasion. Yes, they included Woakes in the squad but they also picked TRJ and Mason Crane. Selection of the final 11 will presumably have been down to Bayliss and Root.

    • Yes. I suspect most cricket followers would love to see a resurgent WIndies.

      Our selectors aren’t very good at answering hard questions. Ironic that the Windies have found a fine opener and, while Whittaker fumbles around with numbers 3 and 5, a middle order star too.

      Looking forward to the Lords match.

  • Agree, a great day for the bigger picture, but important to keep in perspective, as I’m sure England will, that it was the result of only 2 batsmen. The rest did very little apart from rediscover some mojo.
    Their seamers bowled well, without much luck, but so did ours, aside of Woakes, who I feel should return to Warwickshire for the remainder of the season, where he will get more overs and so chance to rediscover his rythmn, always a problem for bowlers after injury. He will go on the Ashes tour anyway and it gives TRJ another chance to show what he can do.
    Certainly the pitch didn’t deteriorate as expected and batting was not an issue over the last 2 days, especially after the ball had lost its hardness. It was a slow enough wicket to have time to adjust once you got your eye in, even the much vaunted Headingly cloud cover seemed to have little effect. The key here to me is playing with soft hands and not chasing the ball. The amount of edges that didn’t carry, yet Root kept his slips back because of the odd one that bounced. His reluctance to a use short leg and even leg slip, also seemed odd.
    Good declaration though and I hope Root won’t be discouraged by the result.

  • Mason Crane took an outstanding catch that might have swung things England’s way in other circumstances. Looking ahead to the Lord’s test, does the young one with the stardust get to play there now that expectations have been adjusted and there is a certain edge going into the game? Decision could go either way although I have a feeling that Crane does edge, watching him bowl to Blackwood would be interesting.

  • Firstly, full credit to the Windies, and especially Brathwaite and Hope for the way they batted. A New Hope indeed for West Indies cricket.

    Don’t blame Root for the declaration – especially after lambasting Strauss and Cook for years of conservative declarations and bore draws. Woakes shouldn’t have played though, and Root’s captaincy on the final day was puzzling at times – Stokes was bowled too little while Anderson and Broad bowled into the ground.

    Hard to escape the accusation of complacency. Not acceptable from the England players and management, though the media were just as guilty of it – yet again we’re all getting obsessed with an Ashes series in the future rather than concentrating on the opponent in front of us. Not that the Windies will care one little bit!

  • All credit to the West Indies but England have a bit of egg on their face here. Normally I’d get angry but i suppose a mixture of thinking it’s good for the game and may actually wake us up has tempered that.

    As the comment above suggests we are all concentrating on the Ashes, which is understandable but you still have to win a series first.

    Now we find ourselves 1 test away from the most important tour knowing we can lose to one of the weakest teams in the world, that’s really gonna set us up for the Gabba.
    Question marks over half the team, and a captain who is very much a rookie making rookie decisions (some of the bowling changes on the last day were in the least a bit baffling).
    The only glimmer of hope, Aussie bowlers keep going down injured

    Going into Lords, Westley cannot play. Move Root up to 3 and bring Hales in. I was hoping we’d be 2-0 up and Crane/Woakes would play but now it should just be TRJ back in for Woakes.

    You could probably still squeeze Woakes/Crane in if you don’t call up a batsman to replace Westley. But we need that spot sorted for Brisbane.

    • Agree with you re Root at 3 – he keeps coming in with the score between 30 and 50 so he might as well move up 1.

      Woakes just looked short of bowling, having stuck him back in you surely need to stick with him.

      Not sure Lords is the place to blood Crane, generally a graveyard for spinners…

      • I think they will stick with Woakes now. Especially as he needs overs.
        He’s been made available for finals day which ok is only 8 overs max, but before they’ve wrapped people in cotton wool

        Would agree normally on Lords, but it’s mid September and looking rather dry until then, so it may take turn

  • Was it ‘humiliating’ for England? Hoping TFT isn’t turning into a mainstream media hysterical ‘triumph/disaster’ with nothing in between ;). Windies played well; England, barring their recovery in the second innings, did not. They were deservedly praised for their performance at Edgbaston with all the caveats about the weakness of the oppo, at Headingley the level dropped. When you bat first and only score 250 you’re likely to be in trouble if the opposition bat well, which Hope and Braithwaite did. They gave WI a glimmer which they transformed into a strong position. Conceding a lead of 150+ first innings is rarely going to lead to wins. England dropped almost as many catches as the Windies.

    We know that England are a talented but flawed side with holes in the batting and the bowling and nothing was new at Headingley. The positive to come out of the test was that Stoneman does look a good prospect and hopefully he can back it up at Lords and then in the Ashes, although we’ve been here before. Still less than convinced by Malan as a test match batsman, although you have to admire his graft. Still think England would be better served with Bairstow at 5, with or without gloves and either bring in an extra bowler or Foakes as a w/k to bat at 8. Alternatively I’d find a way to include Joe Clarke – he’s been on 2 Lions tours – surely now’s the time to give him the step up as nobody’s going to learn much more with another winter in the Lions. The only way I can see it working though is by moving Root up to 3 and sticking him in at 4 or 5, but that’s unlikely to happen.

    As for the bowling, Mo showed exactly what he is, a developing bowler capable of great spells and mediocre ones as well. Can’t be too critical of the Woakes decision as he is definitely in England’s best XI – would he have benefited from 1 more county game? Possibly, but also remember that England’s lead was c150 when he came in to bat 2nd dig and he’s a significantly better batsman than TRJ. It was a marginal call, rather than a cock up. Stokes also looks like he hasn’t quite worked out what type of bowler he is – for me he swings the ball both ways at decent pace and looks most dangerous when looking to move the ball rather than trying to bounce players out.

    As for the declaration, you can’t really criticise Root, but all I would say is that at 1-0 up in a 3 match series, for me you take an opposition win completely out of the equation as it ensures they have to win the final test. They gave Windies a glimmer which they took. Batting till the close on day 4 would have possibly made it 340/350 in 90 overs which would have left them no hope of a win and possibly more vulnerable to a loss; easy in hindsight though – everybody though 320 was enough.

  • I wonder if that win felt as exciting for a West Indies fan as an England fan might have felt after getting one over on Australia in the mid 90s?

    I am largely apathetic about professional cricket now – England are thoroughly unlikeable, and the rest of the competition have collapsed so dramatically there is basically no-one left to beat – the one challenge England did have, beating India away, they basically wrote off as a bad job and didn’t even bother to compete. Either England are woeful, or their opponents are worse, and either way, there isn’t really much to cheer about.

    • I would suggest the little series that takes place this coming winter may be a bit of a challenge, after all we’ve won in India more recently than we have Australia

  • I think you have put your finger on the thinking of bringing back Woakes; it seems, as someone said, the selectors assumed that England would win whoever they played, and so were thinking ahead to the Ashes.

    It is obviously a lot to expect a bowler coming back from a long term injury to be 100% so soon. Woakes looked the innocuous bowler he was when he first played Test cricket, not the rapid and threatening one we saw last year.

    • First off all congratulations to the Windows and it was very refreshing to go into the last day of a test with all four results possible. However being a bit old fashioned, in a 3 match series and 1 up in the second test you take an opposition win out of the equation if you can.
      As it transpired with limited bowling and dropped catches the Windies would probably have won anyway.
      Most worrying for me was Root clearly didn’t trust his bowling team, over bowling Anderson and Broad.
      Still don’t get what Bayliss and Farbrace do.

  • This is a good read James. I’m glad the Windies played better, I’ve watched them a little over the last year and yes they aren’t great but the players had been better over the last year.
    England again have a few questions. I was impressed by malan as when was the last time an England batsman under pressure stuck it out when the team was in a tough position? I know I’m a fan but I can only think of ballance at Cardiff.
    I thought when he was picked that westley was a slight panic pick, there’s reasons he’s never been prolific. the balance of the side is still a question, sure 5 bowlers are enough but stokes and mo are still batsman before bowlers I think and are easily good enough to be 5/6. If you then want to pick an extra batsman why should mo bat at 8 when he has how many test hundreds from 7 or higher?!?!?!

    The pitch was flat and good for batting I think. It turned very slowly and only when at a slow pace (chase<50mph) Anderson I thought bowled brilliantly, particularly final morning, credit to Windies for getting through it. I think broad hasn't been at his best all summer really.

    Westley has been retained for lords but I can't see him making runs. Livingstone is having a good season at 3 though if he played I'd rather see him start at 6 with the rest moving up 1 place.

  • An absolute cracker of a test match, initially i thought the windies might become to defensive to avoid defeat but the way hope and brath played was simply incredible… although there weren’t many contributions from the other batters so all is not well for them yet.


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