“Rouge Pitch” or Rogue Batting?

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.

James Morgan


  • It’s clearly not a 500 pitch (do you want one?). There’s some pace, bounce and movement for the quicks ( which is good to see back in West Indian pitches), and I suspect the bounce will get more uneven as time goes on. I’d guess 280-300 is a par score, so England are about 100 short. So, yes, I think there was some poor batting. At least England are becoming more consistent away from home!

    You say this is not a good West Indies side. It’s not a great one, but they seem to have a bowling attack capable of taking 20 wickets, which is always a good start. Joseph (a beanpole Antiguan – when did we ever have problems with one of those) and Gabriel are pretty quick, and Roach moves the ball both ways. Holder (a good player and a good leader) isn’t quick, but he’s tall and gets bounce.

  • Completely agree with all of this. And England’s bowlers did cause WI’s batsmen problems starting out…but we lacked luck.

  • Agree James. When you fill a Test side with a lot of flat track one day hitters, all rounders, call them what you will, this is the result when you get a more testing pitch. Unfortunately these guys seem unable or maybe unwilling to try to adapt their game. Any good cricketer should be able to do this. The clue is in the name, TEST match. The Windies openers showed how to approach it.
    I didn’t watch it, but by reports it seemed we bowled too short. Of course we have no real pace to do this, so a bit of a waste of time.

  • It’s both – it’s the pitch and the batting. The pitch is designed to bring a result in 9-11 sessions (even with abysmal over rates) and if it maximises the chances of that result favouring the home side then, as the B3 have been doing that all decade with no sanction, they can hardly complain. This looks a 250-par pitch and while I don’t want 500-600 pitches then 350-400 should be the ideal.

    The batting looks like that if Root goes cheaply they don’t have any belief in their ability to stick around so fling their bats and hope. I don’t see, for example, Nicholls and Watling doing that for NZ if Wiliamson goes early. However if Watling was English, they’d bat him at No.8 and he’d have to hit out because he’d keep getting stuck with the tail.

    I wonder if they stick with Stokes at No.5 despite it clearly not working because it was Farbrace’s idea originally in 2015 and it’s the one thing they can point to Farbrace having done. The plan is obviously to annoint him as one of the coaches in a split regime on the back of a WC and/or Ashes’ triumph.

    The Lions won a game yesterday with Ben Duckett the hero so presumably he’s moved back up the queue (hopefully ahead of recalling Vince as an opener which I’ve read some of the media discussing seriously). Duckett was batting in the middle order but let’s not worry about that (they didn’t for Denly).

    Finally, despite all the talk about sorting his action out, Broad still seemed to be moving everything into the RHB. He was still the most threatening of England’s bowlers but on yesterday’s display the underlying problem hasn’t been solved.

    • The same duckett who is a white ball hitter who showed a distinct lack of temperament and technique?? The same duckett who looks a star much like a top 6 test batter as Jennings ???

      Come on.. you’re plucking names out in desperation and on the back of white ball hitting.. which is exactly what this England side doesn’t need…

      I see people list load sod lions names and say how deep we have in batting.. how these are challenging.. then I look at their red ball avg’s.. they aren’t challenging.. they are all yet again all white ball players who happen to have to play red ball as their counties won’t pick or train specialists..

  • Ah, Malcolm Marshall. There was a bowler. 5’9″ and yet his preturnatural ability to nip it up off a full length was lethal. He was my hero!
    Not watched any of this series. It’s unfolded pretty much as expected so far. I can’t see us winning away from home against decent opposition for a long, long time. It’s the 90s all over again…

  • The number you bat is less important than the number of overs negotiated before you bat.

    Farbrace is very good at nurturing young players. eg at Kent and it was a farsighted decision to ‘transform’ Stokes by putting him up the order at 6. But batting 6 and coming in a 20 for 4 is different from batting 6 and coming in at 200 for 4 Yesterday Stokes walked to the wicket (bisected by a trench and motled green and brown) to start the 19th over.

    The greatest problem is 1,2,3. And their greatest problem is not leaving sufficient balls. Playing 4 and 5 day cricket (and 3 day before

  • whoops ! … ( and 3 day before that) should be about surviving the first 30 overs by reducing the number of shots in your mind as the bowler runs in. It is like a filing index. Take two or three cards from the pack and during those first overs the shot you want to play is the leave. A leave is a victory. The bowler has wasted time on you. And the other two shots you have at the ready are playing under your eyes either off the front or the back foot. It is a game of attrition.

    As the ball softens, as the bowlers tire you select a couple more shots to be at the top of your attention and replace an equal number.

    Of course young batsmen are not taught that. They are told and rewarded for domination from the off. Some good openers and No3s will disappear into the Eng Dev programme at 15 and will not survive or prosper unless they change their game drastically. And of course much of a young County Age Group cricketer or ECB Programmer will spend hours facing a bowling machine grooving checked drives NEVER leaves.

    It would be interesting to know the earliest Gilly ever batted in an innings.

  • It’s got variable bounce which means the batsmen have to use their brains and try to make it through the difficult periods until the ball gets softer. Unfortunately for England supporters, the set up tells the batsmen to leave their brains at home and go out there and just “play attacking positive cricket”

  • Before the match started Paul Collingwood said he thought it looked an “English” pitch. So what was Bob W gping on about?

  • It simply proved that England have a shed full of limited over bats. Bairstow and Moeen did well, but did it batting in ODI mode which may not have worked and ended up with us all out for 100. Until the idiots at the ECB understand that batting requirements for tests and limited over cricket are different (even if a good bat can play both types) England will be prone to collapses.

  • This is going to be a long and maybe even somewhat controversial post so bear with me.

    To start off that was a good balanced article. I watched the debate last night too and was rather surprised to see Bob and co slating the pitch which implied that the Windies were not playing fairly, sentiments that bring back memories of the 70s and 80s when they had big fast bowlers roughening up the opposition. I don’t agree with Bob’s comments of course.

    Anyhow, much has been written on these pages and others calling for Moeen’s head and yesterday he reminded us why he’s such a valuable asset to this England team. He’s primarily a batsman who can bowl a bit and I disagree with all the posters who argue he should be selected for his bowling alone. His batting has faltered over the last 18 months because he’s tried to step up his bowling which is what the team needs from him. Unfortunately this has come at the expense of his batting.

    I rate Mo as highly as Stokes, it’s just that he’s not flashy or have the same impact. I get the feeling he goes out in every match playing for his place which understandably doesn’t give him the license to express himself, something that hasn’t been a problem for Stokes at all. Plus Mo comes into bat where the team needs him, not where he wants to. He’s also usually given the ball when the strike bowlers find the going tough. Imagine if you were expected to do a role at work which you’re not comfortable with day in day out, wouldn’t that inhibit your performance in some way or the other, especially in international sport where the margin between success and failure is so very thin? So I say well played Moeen, keep it up lad, just show a bit more consistency if you can.

    I would have Moeen in my team nine times out of ten. If the conditions do not favour his style of playing (both batting and bowling) I may consider Leach for his spin but bear in mind the batting would need to be strengthened in some way. Or I’d play Mo primarily as a batsmen and any wickets he takes would be a bonus. If the conditions heavily favour spin like they did in Sri Lanka I’d play Moeen as a bowler and any runs he makes would be a bonus.

    England’s depth in batting and bowling is better than what most England fans think. They are a top 3 test team and although they struggle abroad (who doesn’t these days?) they’re a formidable unit at home. To expect England to win both at home and away is unreasonable especially at this moment when pitch conditions heavily favour the home side. No team in test cricket at the moment has the personell to dominate matches both home and away, England included. Unfortunately, this attitude by the three big fat cats in the ICC will only result in domestic cricket across the world not producing players who can perform well both and away.

    On that note spare a thought for poor Sri Lanka. Depleted of their (substandard) bowling stocks they went into the second test with a fast bowling line-up with a collective test experience of five tests to bowl Australia out on a Canberra belter and paid the price for it. With a bowler like Mohammed Dilshad plying his trade in the domestic ranks who reminds me of a young Jimmy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRf8wzvhfXk), they still went in with Chamika Karunarate, an ‘all-rounder’ who has a batting average under 25 and bowling average of nearly 35. This makes England’s selection blunders tame in comparison. Give us Moeen and Curran and we’ll take them!

    Finally, I got a feeling that England played very poorly against a sub-standard West Indies side considering their recent losses to top 8 teams. I don’t really think that’s the case either. This Windies team is highly talented but their stats don’t reflect this, mainly because of their incompetent cricket board’s policy towards test cricket and cricket in general. They played to the best of their ability against England who didn’t quite expect them to raise their game. I had a feeling that they sensed weaknesses in this England side and used it to their advantage. If this current lot of Windies players are groomed and nurtured they will no doubt challenge the best out there and their stats can only improve. Sadly, I don’t think this is going to happen.

    • Umm.. no

      You’ve literally just started this side is fine as it is.. utterly wrong. This is a one day side with a one day mentality.

      Curran is less than 80mph ffs and isn’t accurate.. his batting is yet again, one day style
      Stokes avg 26 over the last 12-18 months.. also a one day player really
      Bairstow plays the same way in tests as ODI’s.. attack attack attack
      Root too (he’s not as good innwhite ball power wise so naturally fits both formats but only as a 4/5 not higher)
      Burns strength is off his pads but can’t seem to leave or soak up dots for toffee.. why.. because he’s groomed to attack attack attack

      You favoured moeen.. nowhere near a test match batter.. he’s a luxury batter so has to be picked on the strength of hismbowling

  • I’m not watching this but our bowling appears tight but without any penetration. It’s a helpful fast pitch but we don’t have the pace to exploit it. Plus the Windies batsman are giving us a lesson in how to bat in a Test match. 1 down and 50 odd behind. If Wood could get fit and crank it up to 90mph it would be most useful. Apart from him Woakes is maybe a shade quicker than the current lot, but they won’t play him.
    As for Stokes at 5, well a few years ago ok, but his batting average now would suggest 7 tops. Trouble is that makes about 5 no 7’s who are all batting largely to high. What with problems certainly at 2 and 3, quite frankly it’s a mess for a Test line up.

    • Woakes is at least 5mph faster than the man he would replace (Curran). Unless they come out and confirm Woakes is carrying an injury and that is why he was not in the team, Smith, Bayliss and Root should be paraded around the Antiguan ground wearing dunces caps.

  • It’s so frustrating being an England supporter, but ‘twas ever thus I suppose.

    For me the problems begin with our captains spouting this nonsense about a “positive brand of cricket”. I think they mean that we’re not going down the Flower/Strauss route of boring everyone senseless, but to a set of players brought up on white ball cricket it’s simply a mandate to hit out from the first ball – when the inevitable happens (did you see the picture of Denly getting out?!), they can at least tell the skipper that they were trying to be positive.

    Yesterday was illuminating. England scored at three runs/over on a tricky pitch, but didn’t last long. When the Windies batted they only scored at one-and-a-half. I know that England need to force a result here and slow scoring doesn’t bother the Windies when they’re one up, but it suggests that they had opening batsmen worthy of a test match cap who understood that each ball has to be played on its merits. They’ve continued their circumspection for most of today, and it’s paying off for them.

    One side is playing test cricket. I’m not clear what the other one is doing…

  • James, your comment “is this any different from England preparing green tops at Nottingham in the Ashes or India preparing bunsens in Bangalore?” highlights one of things I dislike about international cricket. The ability to produce wickets heavily in favour of the home side. I can’t think of any international sport where the playing surface can be modified in such a way.
    Perhaps this is a feature of cricket that makes it appealing to fans, but not this one. Whilst two or three day tests may be a great way to win, I think they damage the game to the point where four day tests will become standard.

  • I don’t know why people expect any different from a side composed almost totally of white ball mentality players and management, where we have been successful most recently and continue to be so. With Cook gone there is no test style batsman left to pick. Even Root cannot resist chasing the ball. The philosophy is don’t let the bowler dominate whatever the conditions or match situation. However talented we may be this one dimensional philosophy will always come unstuck in the longer format where we have to bat on wearing pitches. It’s not rocket science, just a lazy mentality where players don’t have to think about plan B.

    • Like you fella, it amazes me just how blinkered to this pure one day style people seem to be. They just don’t seem to see it.. they seem to think it’s grest test cricket, hence the continued messiah worship of all the one day style batsmen that keep popping up


      Literally only one player since 20010 has shown any willingness to bat like a test match.. Hameed and he’s currently dire for some reason .. every single one of the above are fighting for 6/7 in side.. tbf, we do have good depth in then6/7 position 🙈🏏🙈

      • Slightly unfair – Foakes and Woakes have a pretty red ball mindset when batting, but I would agree that they are hardly the front line batsmen who need to show proper technique. And I think you are overlooking Strauss and Trott who, whatever else, were not white ball bats.

      • Just off the top of my head, there was also Compton, Carberry, Robson, even Lyth had a proven track record in the championship (although actually he was a bit flashy outside off), James Taylor, Stoneman, Westley… most of them might not have been good enough to retain a place in the long run but that wasn’t down to a lack of red-ball application or a limited overs approach to Test match batting. And I confess I haven’t seen him play in the county game for Surrey but I didn’t have Pope down as a one day style batter? Is he?


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