I’m feeling a bit rough today so I’ll keep this short – a bit like England’s innings. I tuned into Sky’s The Debate last night expecting Grumpy Bob and Co to lambast what I thought was another really poor batting display from our ragtag batting line-up. But instead of being critical they basically blamed the pitch. Hmmmm.
Yes the pitch in Antigua wasn’t great – a far cry from the roads Andy Roberts used to prepared at the old ground – but was it really a 93-6 pitch? Personally I think not. In fact, one could argue that the Windies groundsman has been rather clever in preparing a surface that suits the home side’s faster and taller bowlers. Is this any different from England preparing green tops at Nottingham in the Ashes or India preparing bunsens in Bangalore? Personally I think not.
Obviously we’ll have to wait and see what happens today, and whether the pitch deteriorates as the game goes on, but the fact that the Windies reached 30-0 at the close (albeit off 20 overs) suggests that the home groundsman has got things absolutely right if he’s seeking to give Jason Holder’s team an advantage. And I think it’s difficult for England to moan in the circumstances.
What’s more, if one looks at the individual dismissals of England’s batsmen, how many of these were a direct consequence of the surface? Joe Root got a snorter, that’s for sure, but his dramatic reaction after he edge the ball did seem to exaggerate the bounce somewhat. Joe Denly got a similar ball half an hour before and played in much better with soft hands and the ball landed comfortably in front of slip.
Rory Burns simply got a good ball that moved off the seam (that can happen on any ground anywhere), Denly played a very poor shot at very wide ball (not the pitch’s fault), Jonny Bairstow played around a full ball (not the pitch’s fault), Buttler came walking down the pitch (a stupid error of judgment against a bowler as tall as 6ft 6), Stokes got a good ball (his dismissal wouldn’t have looked out of the ordinary at Perth), and Foakes got into a tangle against a short ball. Other than Root only Moeen Ali can really blame the surface as he got a ball that seemed to stop / kick.
I watched most of the day’s play and the pitch seemed fine during the period when Mo and Foakes dug England out of a hole. It was not a minefield. Had England showed better judgement, a little character, and not let the occasional ball that spat affect them mentally, then a score of 250 would’ve been achievable. This pitch was not, I repeat not, anything like the surface at Sabina Park in 1998 when the test was called off. See below.
England are now obviously in a hole and we’ll have to bowl extremely well today to stay in the game. If we have another bad day, bowl poorly, catch poorly, and perhaps even bat poorly again if our second innings begins in the evening session, then we can kiss goodbye to the series.
Let’s not make any bones about this. England are not playing a good West Indies side. They’ve only won one series against major opposition (i.e. not Bangladesh or Zimbabwe) in the last eight years at home. The Windies bowling attack is improving, and the conditions obviously suit them, but let’s not forget that they’ve had a terrible run of late including a defeat to Bangladesh by an innings in the match immediately before Barbados. If England lose this series it will be a humiliation and a massive setback.
This is why I’m amazed that so many people seem eager to give England a pass. In days gone by the likes of Alec Stewart would’ve got really stuck in on a pitch like this one. They would’ve been brave and toughed it out against bowlers a lot more hostile than Roach and Joseph.
But the problem is that our current generation simply don’t know how to fight, occupy the crease, and compile old-fashioned test innings. Our batsmen can play every shot in the book but have no answer when the conditions don’t permit them to play with panache. At least that’s the view of this grumpy middle-aged git who’s currently got a nose / head as sore as Mike Gatting’s after a nasty encounter with Malcolm Marshall.