What a day in St Lucia. England are on top, the Windies frailties (which were there all along) are finally being exposed, and only a minor miracle can prevent us from claiming a much needed consolation victory. You didn’t really think we’d lose 0-3 did you?
England’s strong position is mainly down to four men: Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, who batted so well on day one, and Mark Wood and Moeen Ali, who were our heroes with the ball yesterday. The people who should take absolutely no credit, however, are the men who complied England’s final XI. What a pig’s ear.
Recalling Keaton Jennings for this game was quite simply bizarre. The poor bloke has looked completely shot this series and needed some time out of the firing line. The decision to drop Ben Foakes was also bizarre, if only because you could play Foakes as a pure batsman in any position and he’d probably score more than Jennings.
The fact England abandoned the Jonny Bairstow at 3 experiment so quickly, and moved him down as low as 7 – just think about that for a second – shows just how clueless our selectors and management are. How can you claim England’s second best batsman is the answer at 3 and then moved him down four places within a week? It boggles the mind. I wasn’t a fan of moving Jonny to 3 in the first place, but having done so they should have seen things through. It’s like Bayliss and Co are throwing crap at a wall randomly and at different angles in the desperate hope that some of it will stick sooner or later.
Dropping Foakes was also ridiculous because just a few days ago Trevor Bayliss waxed lyrical about how young Ben had one of the best batting techniques in the side (as well as being far and away the best keeper). I guess leaving him out proves just how little the current selectors and management value the ability to, you know, play with a straight bat and not get cleaned bowled like a goose.
The success of Mark Wood in this game also leaves one scratching one’s head. Where the hell has he been? There had been all kinds of reports that he’d lost a yard of pace after his three ankle operations. Methinks talk of his demise were somewhat overstated! Wood was simply breathtaking yesterday. And the fact England played Sam Curran ahead of him in the first two matches of the series shows just how inept England’s braintrust really are.
However, fortunately it looks like the selectors and management are going to get away with it in this game – just like our batsmen are going to get away with yet another pitiful collapse. The Durham paceman, who like Foakes in Sri Lanka wasn’t even named in the original tour party, has all but secured the win in one devastating spell. It was a rapid transformation thanks to some bloody rapid bowling.
I’ve always loved Mark Wood so I’m absolutely delighted for the bloke. It was great to see him fully fit at last and bowling as fast as we all know he can. Personally I doubted whether we’d ever seen him hit the heights again. So to see him smiling broadly and loving every minute of his work was brilliant. It was like watching a young Darren Gough on laughing gas. You could see the joy all over his face.
Although Wood has often been characterised as a one-day bowler – probably because his body has struggled to cope with the demands of test cricket – it was great to hear him talk about his love of red ball cricket in the pressers. He said all the things that press my buttons: “test cricket is the pinnacle” and “it’s always been my dream”.
What’s more, you sensed he absolutely meant it. This wasn’t like Jos Buttler’s interviews after his recall last summer, when he somewhat sheepishly claimed he’d always harboured ambitions to play test cricket despite claiming that (a) T20 might be cricket’s only format in a few years’ time, and (b) predicting more and more cricketers would turn their back on red ball cricket after Alex Hales and Adil Rashid decision to ‘retire’.
It was brilliant to finally see England with a bit of firepower in their attack too. Although I’m a little skeptical that Wood hit 95mph, it certainly looked quick enough. The Windies batsmen looked ruffled and out of their depth. It’s amazing what pace can do to your opposition.
Moeen Ali also bowled particularly well. It was really encouraging to see him bowl a good attacking off-stump line. The winter has definitely been his best as an England spinner and he finally looks like a bowler Root can rely on. If Wood becomes a fixture in this side – and let’s keep our fingers crossed that he stays fit – then Mo has an important role to play as the all-rounder at 8. Jack Leach will have to stay patient a little longer.
I wasn’t able to do a match report over the weekend so I should quickly mention how impressed I was with Jos Buttler’s innings on Saturday evening. Although Ben Stokes seemed to steal most of the headlines I actually though Jos was the more controlled and impressive. He took fewer risks that Ben, who seemed to ride his luck at times, and once again I thought he showed signs of becoming a proper test batsman.
It’s a little surreal monitoring Buttler’s test career because he’s still very much a work in progress and I can’t recall seeing any other player learning on the job in the same way. Here is a supremely talented white ball player, with a white ball technique, desperately trying to adapt his method in the cauldron of a test match.
It’s fascinating viewing. He’ll play a few really solid forward defences, and look every inch a test batsman, and then he’ll play an outrageous drive in which he doesn’t move his feet to the ball and simply relies on his incredible eye and powerful wrists to lace the ball through the covers hockey-style. ‘White ball cricket in whites’ is the way I’d describe it.
The great things to see, however, is how much Jos talks to himself mid-innings. You can see that he’s really trying to play like a proper test batter. Yes he still does things that make me wince – the huge gap between bat and pad when he was clean bowled on the second morning was awful – but one cannot ignore the fact that he defended really well for the 126 balls prior to that.
Personally I’m really glad that Jos is now batting at 5 rather than hiding down the order. If we accept he’d going to have his ups and downs like any younger player would – after all, he’s still only managed one century in 30 tests and 52 innings – he’s certainly worth persevering with.
Although I’m not entirely sure how Buttler will cope when the Aussie pacemen bombard him this summer, I think he’s probably got a better chance of success than Pope, Clarke, or any of the alternatives out there. After all, if one looks at The Lions team it’s pretty apparent that the cupboard is bare. That’s why journeymen with modest records like Steven Mullaney are getting a gig. It’s all a bit depressing really.
For me, I’m enjoying this for what it is. If we come away with a victory here, we will have finished our winter tour with a 4-2 record. Not bad, not bad at all.
This reminds me of the early 90s. Some new overhyped bowler would be utterly crap for his first 10 tests, you’d think he was about to be dropped forever, then he’d put in a brilliant performance in a dead rubber with the series already lost, and would be picked on the back of that performance for the next 5 years, during which he’d revert to being consistently slow and crap, only now it was even more frustrating as you had seen the glimpse of what could have been.
Before this match his test bowling average was over 40 and worse, his strike rate was 76. That doesn’t scream pick me regardless of how he looks in the nets.
Fast men are bloody fun to watch though so I hope he keeps injury free as this could be his second coming.
I think England have been surprised at conditions, their selections for the tour make more sense if they were playing on the slow, low pitches they encountered in 2015 and probably thought they could play as they did in Sri Lanka. Kudos to the WIs groundstaff for the turnaround and I hope it can continue
Thrilled for Mark Wood after all the setbacks and struggling with people hyping beyond what he could deliver its brilliant to see. I dare say there will be more injuries in the future and England need to be smart about how much Cricket, when the administrators want five Ashes Tests in little over six weeks he can’t play them all.
I agree it was a quality innings from Buttler which is worth more than the number of runs in the book, looking from the outside he is third choice Test Keeper so there is no point him batting at 6 or 7 waiting to reboot into an All-Round again.
I believe this is down to Johnny Graves of the WICB, who asked for faster pitches, and a return to the Dukes ball. It’s certainly made for a far more entertaining series, and should act as an inspiration to the ECB. If even the WICB can get something right, so can they.
I must admit I thought it impossible for Wood to regain 90mph speed after his injuries, so credit to him. But he will need to be used sparingly as he is both injury prone and, lacking lateral movement, unsuited to wickets without pace or bounce. It may become irrelevant anyway if Archer and Brookes come through as both promise to be quicker and Brookes does have lateral movement.
I do have great difficulty with the idea of Buttler as a work in progress. He will be 29 this year and has been a FC player for 10 years. I have no problem picking him on the ‘least bad’ principle, but even in his lauded second coming he only averages almost exactly 40 in 13 tests since his return. Adequate but not top class.And that is mainly whilst being protected down at 6 or 7. What England need are red ball bats rather than white ball converts. Until they recognise this (and act to encourage such players to develop) England will never achieve consistent results.
I agree. Buttler’s not a test cricketer and I’m looking forward to the day people realise this and Foakes can come back behind the stumps and Bairstow can be moved to 5.
I was a big critic of Buttler’s recall but he’s averaging 40 since his comeback. That’s not too shabby especially for England. If we had a top 3 all averaging 40 then we’d be a decent side. Obviously I’d prefer a proper red ball player in the XI but we aren’t exactly blessed with options.
I also don’t think Buttler’s inclusion has anything to do with Foakes. They could both play. If Buttler is in the team but not keeping then he should be judged as a specialist batsman alone. If he’s scoring runs then he stays in the side. Simple.
The frustrating thing is that the management keep talking about how England a squad these days but that their selections are never on a horses for courses basis. We took Stone (replaced by Wood) to the Windies because we “needed someone with pace” on Caribbean pitches. So why were Wood/Stone left out for two matches and a Broad for one, with Curran picked twice? We only ever change to a horses for courses selection after the “best eleven players” or the “eleven in possession” have messed up.
Also, I’ve not been following closely enough, but did Bairstow do his usual thing of wasting both our reviews in the heat if the moment? When Foakes came in, I noticed a big improvement in the advice the wicketkeeper have the captain and bowler over failed LBW appeals.
Who knows, with Giles due to have more influence on proceedings the Warwick quickies might get a look in as well. A new post Anderson era of proper pace bowling, though how we nurse Wood through the remainder of his career is key if he is to have a test future atall. I know the pitch was helpful but that’s the best spell of pace I’ve seen from any England bowler since Harmison was in his pomp. There must be a reason why when we produce any quickie there always seem to be fitness issues. Don’t recall the Windies having many fitness issues with their barrage of pace during the 70’s and 80’s and most of them played a deal of county cricket on top of their test careers. What might Wood have done if he was fitter 4 or 5 years ago?
It’s not just England who have problems with their fast bowlers. Pat Cummins was injured for 2 years. Steyn has been in and out of the SA side. It might be something to do with the increased test and limited overs workload these days. Garner played 58 tests in 10 years, and Holding 60 in 11. Marshall played 81 in 13 years. They got regular rests for (say) tours of the subcontinent (the back up bowlers, like Tony Gray and Sylvester Clarke came into the side). Anderson has played 147 tests in 16 years, including 117 tests in the last 10 years (I suspect his relative lack of injury may be down to not playing one day cricket).
Let’s hope Wood stays fit, and Root learns how to use him. He should bowl in short spells, like Mitch Johnson did in the Ashes.
Ian Bishop on TV saying that Courtney Walsh played a lot of county cricket, loved playing as much as possible and wasn’t injury prone.
I can’t help wondering if it’s more than coincidence that players are now required to spend a lot of time in the gym and injuries seem to be more common. Stone, for instance, got injured without playing. Doubt if Walsh ever saw a medicine ball
They may have got rest periods but many did play a lot of domestic cricket over here too.
I remember an anecdote in Truman’s biography, ‘Ball of Fire’ where he was on the ship taking the Ashes team to Oz and Peter May asked him to join the team for some physical jerks to keep fitness levels up. He refused saying ‘I’ve bowled a thousand bloody overs this season and what I need is rest, now bugger off and leave me be’. More power to him I say.
Cricket, especially bowling, uses odd muscles and prolonged stints in the gym doing general physical jerks to me are a risk. Like this lunatic modern trend to play footie matches.
Anderson is also down to not being a speed merchant. So less wear and tear on the body.
Botham played over 300 FC matches (excluding Tests). Anderson will probably not even reach 100 FC fixtures. I think Botham still has a lead of about 15 000 balls bowled over Anderson (throughout careers, across all formats). So workload management is definitely key there, supported by the ECB-approved financial doping.
England’s centrally contracted players can easily afford to sit out all the other stuff. Unlike pacers from Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand, since their pay on central contracts is such a pittance, that it is more lucrative for them to play COUNTY cricket. Case in point: Kyle Abbott.
Delighted for Wood. I hope this is the start of an injury free period for him. Please, please, please nurture the guy. Don’t over bowl him. Use him sensibly when and where his pace can make a difference.
Talking about fast bowlers and injuries puts me in mind of a terrific photo of Graham Dulley in delivery stride, reproduced in ‘The Cricketer’ some time in the mid 70’s, where he appears to be balancing all his body weight on his left toe, a bit like a ballet dancer. I think it might have been Dilley who actually cut the toe off his left boot so there was less stress on it as it dragged though on delivery. If it wasn’t Dilley I’m sure there must be someone on this blog who remembers. He was bowling pretty fast at the time and Brearley as the England captain was anxious not to mess with his rather odd action in case it reduced his pace.
I’m pretty sure he had his boot customised with a metal toe cap. Incidentally I remember talking to him in, I think, 1982, and him saying that when he first joined the Kent ground staff it was principally as a batsman rather than a bowler. He certainly had a good eye, and struck the ball very cleanly when he was on song.
He certainly hit the ball cleanly at Leeds in 1981!
Yes indeed – didn’t he score at a faster rate than Botham for at least part of that partnership?
Thank Lillee for that, bowling wide deliveries to a overpopulated slip cordon, so allowing him to free his arms and give it some welly.
Well as Marc says above best spell of really fast bowling by England since Harmison in 2005 ish. I just hope he can stay fit as his whole career has been plagued with injuries. Can’t see him getting through 5 Ashes tests in 6 weeks somehow. How long have been saying England needs pace? Broad out previous ” fastest” was 10mph slower than Wood. No batsman likes genuine pace whatever they say. Trouble is Aussie has 3 of them!
Aaaaaaand he’s back to being 87-88 mph again.. sigh