Over the last few days, the nation has gone into paroxysms of deep celebration, as England pulled off a mighty victory against an impressive West Indies team. Few could have ever hoped for them to scale such heights of majesty, and fewer still to predict it. No wonder the press have gone overboard about it all.
Or perhaps not.
It’s a curious situation. In advance of the Test series, a certain member of the fifth estate was including three victories in his notorious “11 from 17” prediction for the next year, and many others were not much less gung ho. That one may have been something of an outlier, but there’s no doubt at all that the response to England’s win seems entirely out of keeping to what had been expected to be a comfortable series win in the first place.
Is that a trifle churlish? Maybe it is. Certainly England arrived on the last day without having much right to expect a victory, and James Anderson bowled one of those spells to first create an opening, and then to ram home the advantage. Equally, the West Indies were trying to do the right thing, by being positive and not getting stuck in a hole as England themselves have done so often, but they didn’t quite get the balance right – and some injudicious shots hastened their demise.
All of which leaves us where exactly?
England go into the final Test a match up, and it’s worth noting that Dinesh Ramdin has asked for a pitch with pace and bounce. Had they got away with the draw in Grenada, you don’t need to be on the inside track of the West Indies team to recognise that’s the last thing they would have wanted. Even so, that’s the prerogative of the home side, and it does mean at least that we might have some interesting cricket in Barbados. The criticism of the pitch in St Georges was much overdone – essentially it was fine when England were doing well on it, and boring and turgid when they couldn’t take wickets. So often, the domestic press are England’s worst enemy, trying to claim black is white and vice versa, and assuming the readership is either myopic or unintelligent. Hype is not necessary, it was a good win.
I can forgive Peter Moores for going a little over the top in his response to success. He would have felt under severe pressure himself that final morning, and the relief of victory would have been keenly appreciated.
Of course, Alastair Cook has been praised to the skies, in the way we knew we would be. Again, the written press really aren’t helping here with the hyperbole. His final day captaincy was decent enough alright, but continual reminders that it was reasonable enough by the Sky commentary team merely drew attention to it being often otherwise. The implication was quite clear, in Cook’s case being competent is worthy of having attention drawn to it. Since when has being competent been notable unless it’s not often the case?
And then there’s his batting. He did look a little bit better in this Test compared to the first, where he frankly looked all over the shop. Runs in themselves will do him the power of good, and will also give him confidence in his method. But it’s still not the Cook of old; he’s fighting it constantly – his head remains too far over to the offside and he doesn’t look balanced in his shot. Clearly the loss of Jerome Taylor to the West Indies attack was a huge bonus for him – but that’s the luck of the draw and few could begrudge him that. So the runs were welcome – let’s be clear on this, to have a chance in the summer we need Cook back to his best – but nor do they merit an assumption that all is now well with him, because it isn’t. Looked at benignly, it is a work in progress, and I doubt too many bowlers in Sydney and Auckland are panicking about their plans just yet.
Jonathan Trott may come under pressure for his place in the final Test, and this is not remotely fair on him. He’s not an opener, he is a number three. The jobs are not the same, not least because the number three has a bit more time to relax after coming in from fielding. Having brought him back to do that role, to drop him after two Tests would be tantamount to ending his career having handed him a hospital pass and complaining when he dropped it. Nor would it be particularly fair on Adam Lyth who would presumably take over. He’d have a single Test and as we know, things can change when it comes to the home summer. He’d be under pressure to score in this match, and fully aware that his predecessor had been dumped after two games. Selecting Trott to open may well have been the wrong decision in the first place, but having done so, three Tests is the absolute minimum he should expect – and more reasonably he should get the New Zealand series too.
Of the other players, Joe Root is showing signs of being of genuinely exceptional quality. Certainly there are bigger challenges for him over the coming summer than he’s faced in Tests the last year, but it’s hard to argue with the numbers on this. He is rapidly becoming our key player. And in that, he’s only just ahead of Gary Ballance, who has made a superb start to his Test career. As an aside, when looking at a technical set up, Ballance is an excellent contrast to Cook at the moment – there’s no expectation of similarity of course, but Ballance is….well beautifully balanced.
Moeen Ali did not bowl well, and of course ran himself out for a duck. OK, the run out happens, few have avoided the odd brain fade in their careers, and Anderson’s was worse. His bowling looked reflective of someone who had hardly bowled, which is of course the case. I note Nasser Hussain’s thoughts about it potentially being a reversion to the mean, and of course that is quite possible. But a little premature to say so after one poor match post-injury.
Buttler’s keeping was overall excellent. However, as Graeme Fowler observed, his gloves close at the time of the shot when standing up to the stumps. That’s not good technique, and is something that Peter Moores himself ought to be able to have corrected. Maybe he’s on to it.
Stuart Broad was a proper curate’s egg in this match, and indeed in the series so far. His overall pace is way down, but he’s equally bowled some sharp and hostile spells. He also seems to attract a lot of negative comment even though his form as a bowler has been very strong for England in Tests. He’s more or less the only established player to come out of the Ashes shambles with his reputation intact. He deserves time to get it right.
Ben Stokes showed promise. That’s where we still are with him. Likewise Chris Jordan.
And Anderson. He’s not a great bowler, not by any stretch of the imagination. But so what? By definition hardly anyone is. He’s a very fine, exceptionally skilled bowler who can occasionally be completely unplayable. It should be enough and shouldn’t be a stick with which to beat him.
And then there’s someone who didn’t play, but became a topic of conversation – Adil Rashid. Geoff Boycott talked about the situation whereby the selectors choose a squad, but that the team on tour is chosen by captain and coach. And if captain and coach don’t rate a player, then there’s little point in them being selected. I don’t wish to put words in Boycott’s mouth, as he chose them very carefully, but it seemed to indicate this was the position with Rashid, and perhaps that’s why Yorkshire requested his release from the tour. England were right to rebuff them by the way. The question of his selection and whether he ever had a chance of playing is a valid one, but the selectors having done so he’s on the tour and should stay on the tour.
For the West Indies, there are signs of promise. Developing and struggling teams are always prone to a collapse, particularly when kept under pressure. They were and they did. But Brathwaite looked a proper Test batsman, Samuels batted mostly responsibly – well more responsibly than normal – and they fought hard. There are some green shoots perhaps. Let’s hope they sprout.
And so we move to the final Test. A win and England can say they’ve done alright. And they will have done alright. You can only beat what’s in front of you. A draw is problematic, and a defeat, well a defeat and there will be consequences. England are a better side than the West Indies, even though they have significant problems of their own. They should win, they ought to win.