Snow. It used to mean carefree days off school and sledging in local parks. These days it means relentless childcare and having snowballs chucked in your face. Sigh. However, at least I’m having a better time than the England Lions. They’ve just been thrashed 0-3 in their ‘test’ series against West Indies A. That’s the West Indies A side of 2018, not 1978, by the way. Many people assumed this tour would be a breeze. Instead it’s turned into a winter hurricane.
We might be feeling a tad cold back in Blighty at the moment, but the Lions batsmen totally froze on this tour. Andy Flower has tried to put a positive spin on proceedings, pointing out that the Windies side contained quite a few players with international experience, but nobody is buying this nonsense. This humiliating defeat is extremely worrying and suggests that the players coming through the ranks aren’t nearly as good as some would have us believe.
Although the tour started off on a relatively positive note with a draw in the warm-up game against a Jamaican XI, this was the only real highlight of the tour. Indeed, the wickets taken by Jamie Porter and Toby Roland Jones, and the runs scored by Keaton Jennings and Joe Clarke, provided a completely false sense of optimism heading into the test series. In fact, Jennings’s century was the only first class century recorded by a Lions batsman all tour. Oh dear.
The first test was actually quite competitive. England made 252 in the first dig, with Jennings, Nick Gubbins, and Paul Coughlin making good half-centuries. It might not have been a huge total but the Windies replied with a similar score. However, it all went pear-shaped in the second half of the game when the ball started to rag like a Delhi dustbowl. The Lions struggled to 132 all out, and the home side narrowly chased the runs down despite a spirited performance from Jack Leach who claimed 5-26. The man of the match was slow left-armer Jomel Warrican, who blew England away with 7-33 in the second innings. More about him later.
Unfortunately the second test was anything but competitive. England were on the receiving end from the word go. Warrican did his damage on the first day this time, blowing the Lions away for just 145. He claimed an amazing 8-34 (an amazing feat for a spinner on day one) with his spin twin Rahkeem Cornwall picking up the other two wickets. I can’t remember the last time all ten wickets fell to spin on the first day of any match. Only Joe Clarke offered any resistance with a useful knock of 56.
Sadly England’s spinners were unable to follow Warrican and Cornwall’s heroics. Jack Leach again performed admirably, claiming 6-138, but he was unable to stop the home side scoring over 400. Jahmar Hamilton, who only averages 26 in first class cricket, scored an excellent hundred. England’s main seamers, Porter and Roland Jones, took just one wicket in 21 combined overs and conceded nearly 4.5 runs per over. Mason Crane was basically anonymous, and was out-bowled (not for the first time) by Liam Livingstone’s part-timers.
Facing a first innings deficit of nearly 300 runs, England’s batsmen were bowled out cheaply once again. It was all getting rather predictable now. Only Liam Livingstone impressed with the bat – although his 48 wasn’t quite the major innings the Lions desperately required. The other batsmen succumbed meekly to spin once again, with Warrican and Cornwall sharing 8 wickets this time. The result was a miserable innings defeat.
If you’ve been following the recently completed third test you’ll know that things didn’t really improve. England played around with their team selection (Sam Northeast replaced the injured Livingstone and Saqib Mahmood also got a game) but the result was depressingly familiar: the Windies made 236, Warrican and Cornwall skittled the Lions for a paltry 102, and the game was basically up. Haseeb Hameed showed some promise with a painstaking 48, but the others folded like Britain’s transport network in the face of a few inches of snow.
After the Windies made 273-9 in their second innings (which was plenty in the circumstances), the Lions never looked remotely like chasing their target of 408. The most frustrating thing was that eight batsmen made starts and scored 14 or more runs, but nobody reached more than 26! How utterly depressing. Once again our batsmen had no answer to Warrican, who picked up another five-fer. He must have been bowling like Bishan Bedi and a Bangalore Bunsen. A defeat by the decisive margin of 212 runs seemed about right.
The main thing we can take from this disastrous tour is that English batsmen (particularly our young batsmen) are still absolutely hopeless against spin. If anything the situation is probably getting worse. No wonder Ben Duckett looked so horribly unprepared for test cricket in India last winter. I imagine any of the batsmen on this Lions tour would’ve struggled in precisely the same manner.
With the lack of quality spin bowling in the championship (and the height of summer increasingly reserved for white ball cricket) it’s hard to know how England can improve in this area. Andy Flower argued that this ‘learning experience’ would be good for our young players but I’m not so sure. I mean, how much can one learn from getting absolutely hammered? It’s not like many of the batsmen actually improved (and slowly figured things out) as the tour progressed.
Although the likes of Jennings, Hameed, Clarke, Coughlin, and Livingstone all had their moments, none of our batsmen showed any consistent ability to cope. In fact nobody averaged more than 28. I still think that a couple of these batsmen have the talent to succeed in international cricket (Clarke has all the natural talent in the world and we all know that Hameed has the temperament) but one senses they’re not quite ready to step up to the test team yet.
It’s hard to find many positives when a team loses 0-3 (with two of the defeats absolutely hammerings), however there were a couple of encouraging performances by the bowlers. Jack Leach was clearly the star of the tour. He took 18 wickets at 21 in the series and thus demonstrated, yet again, how mentally feeble and totally unprepared he is for international cricket. Ahem. Dom Bess also impressed in his only outing and took 5-112 in the third game.
The biggest disappointment of the tour was Mason Crane. If he was anywhere near a test quality leg spinner at this point then he surely would have enjoyed more success – especially as the conditions suited spin bowling. Instead Crane had a bit of a shocker, and picked up just one wicket in 26 overs at an average of 115. In fact, it was quite apparent that captain Keaton Jennings had a lot more faith in Livingstone’s leg-breaks. When the game was on the line in the first test, and England were defending a small total, Livingstone bowled 12 overs whereas Crane was only trusted with 2. That kind of says it all really.
It’s always fascinating to follow Lions tours, and work out which players might be next in line for a test call up, but I’m afraid that this tour has taught us very little. In fact, in many ways it’s made the selectors look rather foolish too. When England stroll out to play New Zealand at Eden Park later this month, Joe Root’s spinning options will be Mason Crane and Moeen Ali. How on earth can that be right?