This time yesterday I asserted that the performance of England’s batsmen on day four would tell us an awful lot about where we stand as a team. So what did we learn? The expression that springs to mind is ‘close but no donut’.
For periods it looked like we were going to press home a strong advantage. This was especially the case at 113-1 and then 249-3. But typically we blew it. England have some useful batsmen, who might be good one day, but they’re not quite there yet.
Although it’s hard to criticise our top five too much as they all made important contributions, the bottom line is that all five of them – yes ALL five – did the hard work and then gave their wickets away at crucial times before the job was done. It wasn’t good bowling that did for them but poor misjudgements.
Burns inexplicably flapped a wide delivery to backward point; Sibley was caught down the leg-side playing outside the line of his thigh-pad (again); Denly clipped one embarrassingly to short mid-wicket; Crawley played too early and clipped one back to the bowler; and Stokes inexplicably guided the ball to gully when two men were stationed there – an obvious trap.
These dismissals were all soft, sloppy, and rather gave the game away. England should have complied a biggish lead. Instead we’re only 170 runs ahead with just the tail to come. It might prove enough in the end if our bowlers perform brilliantly – do the Windies have the nerve to chase a small score? – but this is besides the point. England should’ve put the game away but failed.
Having said that there were one or two bright spots. For starters we didn’t get knocked over for nothing! At least we’ve actually got a lead. What’s more, Burns and Sibley still look promising as an opening partnership.
The star man, however, was Zak Crawley who impresses me more and more. He’s tall, has good presence at the crease, doesn’t look fazed by much, and his talent is obvious. What a shame that one mental aberration cost him a maiden Test century. Crawley simply must be given a run at No.3 when Joe Root returns. He’s the best long term bet for that position by far.
The man who should make way is clearly Joe Denly who disappointed yet again. It’s always the same with poor Denly. He looks solid, he does all the hard work to get established at the crease, but he never looks like making a big score. And that’s just not enough when you’re a top order Test batsmen. Both his dismissals in this game looked very bad. And that, sadly, should signal the end of what’s been a satisfactory career as a top-order stop gap.
Finally, we should talk, again, about Jos Buttler. He looked an absolute mess and it was no surprise when he got bowled comprehensively – yet another dismissal that should, but probably won’t, result in the end of his Test career.
It’s about time that Ed Smith put his ego aside and admitted that his pet project simply doesn’t warrant a place in the side. His feet were all over the place. To retain Buttler now, who was the signature selection of his early tenure, would display horrendous intransigence.
However, I fully expect Jos to get the rest of the series to prove himself. That, my pedigree chums, is how the England cricket team works. It long ceased operating as a meritocracy.
If you’re one of ‘Ed Smith’s guys’, as George Dobell passionately argues below, then you’ve all but got a job for life. Powerful words.