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.