Slow But Steady: 2nd Test Review

There’s no good time to get Covid. But if you are going to get it – and I think that’s pretty much inevitable unless you plan on living in a bunker forever – make sure there’s a Test match on.

I tested positive on Monday last week, panicked for a minute (mainly because the idea of isolating in one room for ages made me feel claustrophobic), and then breathed a sigh of relief when I remembered that the second Test was about to start. Five days in confinement didn’t seem so solitary with cricket for company. And because I generally felt a bit shit, especially in the mornings, I didn’t feel guilty for neglecting work and focusing on the game instead. Hurrah!

In the end, I managed to get 5 full days of ‘action’, too. I’ve heard lots of conspiracy theories about the groundsman preparing a pancake so that the bars and food vendors of Barbados could milk maximum lolly in the sunshine. But these hypotheses are dead wrong. It was actually me, on the blower, offering the curator whatever he wanted to prolong my cricket as long as possible.

So what did you make of this one? I guess we didn’t lose for the second consecutive game, which represents some progress, but neither did we win. Hopes were high after the first two days, when we finally managed to put an intimidating total on the board, so it’s somewhat disappointing that we didn’t press home the advantage. Scoreboard pressure can do funny things to cricket teams, so kudos to the Windies for showing some grit. Brathwaite did a very commendable Shiv Chanderpaul impression in both innings. Well done him.

What did I make of England’s performance? It wasn’t bad. The batsmen capitalised on some extremely benign conditions – I wouldn’t be reading too much into the ‘Root has finally nailed down the No.3 position’ until he’s faced more challenging circumstances – and it was good to see Ben Stokes start to enjoy himself again. Ben batted with flair and really charged in with the ball. It’s the first time in a long time that he’s looked comfortable with both his mind and body.

Dan Lawrence also had a good game, again. We shouldn’t get too carried away – it’s easy to forget that even Ravi Bopara scored three Test hundreds against the West Indies – but he certainly looks talented. His bowling is useful, too. I’m a big fan of professionals who look like village players when they turn their arm over.

As for the bowlers, they persevered admirably without ever threatening to overwhelm the opposition. I won’t bother talking about Chris Woakes, as we all know what Woakes is at this point, but the others all gave us plenty of food for thought. Did any of them suggest that they might have a future?

The most impressive was clearly Saqib Mahmood. He’s not quick – he’d be brilliant if he had an extra yard of pace – but he’s skiddy enough to suggest that he could enhance England’s attack away from home. He also has the ability to reverse swing the ball, which isn’t a surprise with his somewhat slingy action. I like the look of him. He’s definitely one that warrants more opportunities.

What did I make of Matt Fisher? Well, he’s ok. And I mean that in a good way. He’s got a decent action, runs in smoothly, and looks relatively accurate. I can see why he does well in domestic cricket.

My question about Fisher, however, is whether he’ll end up being a bit too archetypally English i.e. good at home but somewhat ineffective overseas with a Kookaburra. The best-case scenario is that he turns into the next Angus Fraser. The worst-case is that he becomes indistinguishable from all the other stereotypical English seamers that have come and gone very quickly over the years – Toby Roland Jones, Darren Pattinson, Richard Johnson, and Jake Ball immediately spring to mind. 

And then, inevitably, we come to Jack Leach. He’s fast becoming cricketing Marmite. I’ve never seen pretty impressive match figures of 95-40-154-6 receive so much flak.

Some observers look at Leach with glass half full: they see a developing left-arm spinner, who averages a very respectable 31 in his first 21 Tests, and celebrate the fact that we finally have someone who can keep it tight, pick up the odd wicket in the first innings, and then exploit conditions when it starts to rag at the back end of a game.

These people don’t expect Leach to be anything more than he is. And they’ve given up craving for the next Graeme Swann. Other people, on the other hand, only seem to focus on what Leach doesn’t do: he doesn’t give it enough loop, he doesn’t turn it both ways, he’s mentally fragile, and we need to invest in someone better.

Personally, I think that Leach has had a raw deal from previous regimes and for that reason alone I’m very much on his side. I think he’s more reliable than Moeen Ali, and whilst I wish he possessed a bit more variation – if only he had some form of arm ball / quicker delivery that skidded on and attacked the stumps more frequently – I think he’s perfectly good enough to balance England’s 5-man attack. In fact, I’d play him in every game for that reason.

Whilst I don’t think that Leach will ever be ‘world class’, I think he’s quite capable of playing 50 Tests and finishing with somewhere near 200 wickets at an average in the low 30s and a good economy rate. And that would make him England’s second most successful spinner since at least the 1980s. His inclusion in the team also reduces the workload of England’s injury-prone seamers. Jack bowled almost 100 overs in this game. That’s the difference between Mark Wood staying fit, Olly Robinson not collapsing through exhaustion, and Jofra Archer not being bowled senselessly into the ground and sodding off to the IPL (not that I think he will).

Consequently, whilst I understand the clamour for Matt Parkinson, and I hope the leggie gets a game at some point, let’s not underrate the all-round contribution Leach makes to the team, whilst overrating the potential impact of a bowler we haven’t actually seen in whites yet. If Parky picks up wickets, but simultaneously leaks runs, then we’ve essentially swapped Moeen Ali for someone with similar production. The problem, of course, is that Parkinson can’t bat like Moeen. And he can’t field like him, either. So it’s a net loss. Leach, on the other hand, brings a slightly different skillset to the table.

So now we move on to Grenada for the 3rd and final Test. It starts in just three days. Sigh. My main hope is that we see a better wicket – something with a bit of life for the seamers. The concern, however, is whether this will expose England’s batsmen. Kemar Roach is more than capable of running through our top order.

Much as we’ve moaned about them, the benign surfaces thus far have somewhat hidden our inadequacies; therefore I’m wondering whether another slow surface is actually our best chance of victory. After all, it’s clear than Leach is a better bowler than Permaul. But are England’s seamers better than the Windies pacemen? I think that’s debateable. A spicy surface might make the contest more of a lottery. So perhaps we should be careful what we wish for.

James Morgan


    • Having mentioned that Da Silva looked better than Foakes in the First Test he promptly went and dropped Root off a none-too-difficult chance down the leg-side.

      It wasn’t only England who missed chances (the non-review and bowling with a no-ball of Blackwood).

  • Good read and hope you are better soon. In respect of Matt Parkinson I do agree with your thoughts on Jack Leach but Parkinsons record in terms of economy is actually very good for a leg spinner across all formats in fact whilst for some reason on Cricinfo I can now only find people’s international records not their domestic ones I am sure last time i looked Parkinsons economy rate was favourable when compared with Moeen Ali, Dom Bess and only marginally inferior to that of Leach but with a superior strike rate.

  • With England’s still iffy batting line up, Root and Stokes excepting, the selectors will always go for bowlers who can bat above possibly better bowlers who can’t. It is totally understandable but as you mostly have to take 20 wickets to win a match, however many runs you score, bowling the opposition out is the key to winning games. The amount of times recently we have had 5 or 6 wickets down for around 250-300 and the tail puts on another 100 is the consequence of this. Would have liked to see Lawrence given a few more overs in this match, he looks quite an awkward customer, especially as Woakes and Fisher looked a pretty innocuous opening pair and maybe it would have taken some of the pressure on workhorse Leach. Agree about Mahmood, would have opened with him over Woakes, who is a a first or second change man if I ever saw one. Agree it was good to see Stokes back to operating as a proper all rounder and great to see a proper keeper behind the stumps. Long may it continue.
    Despite the uncharacteristically slow and pretty unresponsive pitches out there it was good to see some old school test cricket with old school scoring rates. It was not a bore draw to any who remember test cricket before white ball took over. Bowlers had to work for their wickets and batsmen graft for their runs which it what test cricket should be about. Easy pickings is not the name of this game.

  • The pitch wasn’t good but it was a bit better than the First Test because it had a touch more pace, hence the slightly faster scoring. A top quality Test attack could have got a result on it. England had what was effectively the third choice attack out which shows the real priorities – and winning this series isn’t one of them.

    I don’t follow WI much – but I’m wondering where certain of their players are? Warrican is a better spinner than Permaul. They must have a better batting option than Brooks (is Darren Bravo ruled out?) and a better seamer than Joseph. Also, what’s happened to Dowrich?

    I hope England pick Parkinson if only to shut some of the media up.

    A positive test doesn’t mean anyone has “covid”. The CDC in the USA admitted last month in Congressional testimony that the tests produce positives for the common cold. I’ve reformed my diet, not been vaxxed and have not had any cold/flu/covid symptoms in two years.

    • Well, it didn’t feel like a common cold to me! Quite different symptoms to the ones I normally get. Thankfully not too bad though.

      • Well, I hope it clears up soon but that your isolation period can last all through the third test.

  • Brilliant James. I was engrossed from first words to last. I sort of agree about Leach. He is capable of holding down and end and he seems to be the best we’ve got, for now.

    What I wonder is where all our mediocrity come from. With certain reservations I’d like to see more of Lawrence and Crawley, but the up and coming bowling squad do not inspire me. As you say there is real hope for Saqib Mahmood, but other than that, I’m not overly hopeful. Nice boys but not enough penetration will the ball. Hopefully they will come on and I wish them well, but who knows?

    • I have the advantage (if that’s the right term) of knowing what happened in the third test. This makes me think that the apparent batting “renaissance” in the first two games may have been the pitches, rather than any actual improvement in the batting. This wasn’t a 90/8 pitch or attack. I should say congratulations to West Indies, who demonstrated a lot of the qualities you need to succeed in test cricket. Grit, determination and not wanting to give your wicket away are 3 of them. Da Silva, Roach and Seales (who are not the world’s 3 best batsmen, as I’m sure they would accept) demonstrated these qualities. So did Leach and Mahmood. Too many England batsmen didn’t.

      The bowling was, frankly, innocuous. 80mph trundlers don’t cut it at test level (except, possibly, on an English green top in May), and whoever thought Craig Overton was a test new ball bowler should consider themselves permanently disqualified from all selection panels. Most of the bowlers seemed to be operating 5-10kph below their best levels too. Jack Leach is perfectly decent, but the lack of opportunity to develop his craft at county level (spinners thrive in August, when there are no championship games) counts against him.

      For Marcus Trescothick to describe it as just one bad day at the office is, frankly, idiotic. Has he not looked at what happened in 2021? Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. England played 15 tests in 2021. In 9 of their first innings, they failed to make the (adequate) score of 300 (5 were under 200, which is clearly not good enough). The second innings stats are considerably worse: 8 of 11 completed second innings (ie excluding declarations, etc) were under 200. Since the Sri Lanka series in January 2021, we have lost 4 successive series, with 2 wins, 6 draws and 11 losses.
      I think Root has lost the commitment of his players, and will have to go as captain as soon as the revolving selection door can identify a suitable replacement (I think this is hard). Other issues that should be addressed (but probably won’t be) include:
      Do England play too many tests, especially when the players need to stay in bubbles?
      Should the County Championship be played in July and August, when conditions are similar to tests? (spoiler: yes)
      How can we keep our fast bowlers (not medium pace trundlers) fit?
      Is there some kind of operation that can install a backbone in our batsmen?

      Sorry for the long rant (this is a general reply to comments on here). Hope some of it is interesting!

  • If the wicket for the third test is similar t9 that for the first two, then we should really be going in with two specialist spinners rather than giving so many overs to Root and Lawrence and leaving Overton/Woakes/Fisher/whoever twiddling their thumbs.

    With Stokes back to bowling his share of the overs, I’d make up the rest of the attack with two out of Woakes, Robinson and Mahmood. I only include Woakes in there for his batting and wouldn’t expect to bowl him much.

    Leaving out Broad and Anderson still seems bonkers to me. We had Curran, Woakes, Stone, Archer, Wood, Robinson all competing for one place in the attack (with Anderson, Broad, Stokes and a spinner) and deserving of an opportunity. I kind of get the need to give them all a chance but, of those six, only one was fit for the second test. If we’re still in this position in the summer, how can we be looking at anything other than Anderson/Broad/Woakes/Stokes/Leach?

  • Sure it wasn’t a nasty dose of what my mum used to call “Testmatchitis” when dad used to go down with conveniently-timed bugs when I was a kid…?
    I thought Fisher looked poor and Mahmood worth persevering with. I wished they’d play 2 spinners instead of the endless diet of 4 right-arm seamers. Hopefully we’ll have Robinson in for Woakes next Test, too. I doubt Woakes will ever play an overseas Test again and possibly not another at all.
    Ultimately, I expect all that prevented us winning this Test was the failure to review the Blackwood lbw on 0. Had we done so, we’d have probably had a first innings lead close to 200 and ended up with over 3 sessions to bowl them out. Small margins…
    At least we seem to be making some baby-steps progress. Two poor sides though.
    Hope you’re feeling better.

  • Well glad you had the cricket to watch when not feeling too good James. At least the current Covid strains seem less potent than when it first hit, that’s the vaccines of course as much as anything. Being fit and eating well helps a lot but the unvaxxed will be spreading the virus symptoms or not. They should be more mindful of others and not so bloody selfish, scared of needles no doubt.
    Anyhow the cricket. To be honest I found a lot of it so dull I either went to sleep or turned it off. These pitches don’t help the game especially with largely powder puff bowling. Yes Leech is the best spinner we have, but he’s never going to bowl sides out anymore than Woakes or Fisher. But Stokes looks back to fitness and Foakes did ok but made a few errors. Really though, a long way to go if we can’t win against today’s Windies. Batting? Not sure you can really tell get on these wickets. The question is: would this line up have lost 4-0 to Australia? Maybe 3-1, maybe….

    • Doug if you’re going to go off topic at least get your facts right. Being vaccinated makes virtually no difference to your ability to transmit the Covid virus.
      How can there be anyone in the country who doesn’t know this by now? Medically, the Covid “vaccine” is not a vaccine at all. It’s a prophylactic i.e. it significantly reduces the severity of the illness, slightly reduces your chances of catching it and barely affects your ability to transmit it at all if you become infected. Contrast with something like the polio or rabies vaccine, which stop you catching it. You don’t hear people saying “I got bitten by a dog on holiday but fortunately only got a mild case of rabies”…
      Cricket-wise, this side would never have won a Test in Australia because the bowling is so poor. We’ve got Woakes, Fisher and Mahmood in place of Wood, Robinson, Broad and Anderson. Australia would make 500 virtually every time first innings against this cannon-fodder.

      • So bear with me for being off topic here, you seem to be saying that if your one of the selfish unvaxed it makes little difference to transmission? So how do you explain the huge decrease in infections since the vaccines were rolled out as well as the greatest % in hospital also are unvaxed?
        We agree on the cricket though!

  • Third Test Day One media talking points:
    1) Lees scores too slowly.
    2) Leach is a rubbish bowler.
    3) Shouldn’t Strauss be PM?
    4) Nothing else.

    BTW I see Mike Selvey “stands with Ukraine”. As if they didn’t have enough problems – like a leader who intends to have a lot of them killed when not playing the piano with his penis (and tbc – no, I’m not implying Putin is a good guy, they are both vile as are NATO leaders).

    • James “slowly but surely” must mean going further backward now. This is an awful awful side with maybe Mahmood and Lees (who at least knows where his stumps are and what not to play) the only well, minor “positives”. (I hate that ….ing word). But really you can’t talk this lot up, and it’s not just too much white ball or Covid lockdowns, they are just not good enough.
      And to use another horrible word, you can’t “reset” anything unless you ditch the captain who is clearly bereft of any ideas and frankly need to be relieved of the roll asap. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t step down after this shambles.
      I do like Myers though, the Windies answer to Darren Stevens, now there’s a thought…..
      Back to watching New Zealand for me.


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