The West Indies come roaring back. Test cricket is alive and well! All the doom-sayers can get back to their caves and all is well in the world…
It’s not hard to see today’s play used as a counter whenever someone mentions the state of this series and the disparity between the sides evident in the first Test, and there’s no question but that the West Indies had a much better time today, and perhaps most importantly of all, played with a sense of pride entirely absent at Edgbaston.
As far as the match position goes, bowling England out for 258 and finishing 19-1 at the close represents a decent return on their efforts for the visitors, and tomorrow they’ll have the chance to push on, get a good total going past England, and put the hosts under serious pressure…
That’s not going to happen is it?
Seeing the West Indies play like this and praising them for it has the hint of condescension about it, for England were pretty woeful against spirited, but hardly lethal bowling. It is true however, that but for dropped catches, England could and probably should have been dismissed for 100 fewer than what is anyway a fairly unimpressive total. Those who did score runs – Root and Stokes primarily – were dropped at least once, and early in their innings, while others played some fairly average shots as the batting order displayed all the faults that have been glaringly obvious for so long.
None of the top eight were properly got out, the nearest being Cook who did at least receive a half reasonable delivery. The others played variations on poor shot selection or execution, and once again the top order flopped to the point they were four down a long way short of having 100 on the board. As tiresome as it is to write the same thing about the same problems time and again, it remains the case that with this England team, unless Cook and/or Root go on to big big scores, the undoubtedly powerful middle and lower order is going to be coming in to try and rescue the situation yet again. And they simply aren’t going to do it every time. With the Ashes tour looming, these problems are coming home to roost, and an air of panic around the media seems to be taking hold. Stoneman was on the receiving end of this too, a player batting for only the second time in a Test match. Whatever his likelihood of making it as an international cricketer, to be questioning him at this stage is palpably absurd, except as an illustration of the mess England have got themselves into.
Tom Westley received plenty of plaudits in his first couple of matches, for although he didn’t go on to make a big score, he was busy and played his shots. How quickly the opinion of the pundits turns. Another straight ball, another angled bat, another lbw and suddenly the knives were out for him. Dawid Malan too, inside edging a fairly innocuous delivery from Jason Holder back on to his stumps, and the question marks over 60% of the top order were now being vocally discussed.
It’s too late. The casual discarding of established players is what got them to this point, not because they can’t bring them back, but because they won’t. Does anyone really think a 35 year old Ian Bell with all those Test runs under his belt would be a worse option than these two? But no, they’ve dispensed with his services, and the swallowing of pride involved in recalling him (yes, he’s not had a great season – the question above is the pertinent one) is unlikely in the extreme.
So once again the core strength of the England batting order as a unit had to drag it back. Root scored another fifty and got out again, and of course the muttering about conversion rates popped up again. It’s clear enough that it’s winding up Root more than anyone, but at least he is scoring runs, which is more than can be said for most.
Stokes has batted a great deal better in his career than he did here, for he had a fair bit of luck on his way to his sixth Test century (passing Andrew Flintoff’s five, interestingly enough) but it bears repeating that Stokes’ style of batting carries significant risk. Sometimes he will get away with it, sometimes he won’t, and edging over a vacant slip area is a freedom he earns by forcing fielding captains to re-inforce elsewhere. A magnificent Stokes knock it wasn’t, but his innings was still full of extraordinary shots, and the manner in which he manipulated the bowling by stepping across to off and pinging the ball through midwicket was reminiscent of another highly destructive England middle order batsman of recent vintage.
For the West Indies, Kemar Roach’s 4-71 must have been one of the hardest working non-five wicket hauls in some time. Every catch that went begging appeared to be off his bowling, but he was undeniably the pick of the attack, though the return of Shannon Gabriel added some potency missing last week. Quite why Bishoo was brought back and then hardly bowled (while Roston Chase got twice as many overs) was harder to comprehend. Still, he had more chance to contribute just before the close when coming in as nightwatchman.
The West Indies do have a chance here, but well as they played on day one, they’re going to have to bat out of their skins to get into a winning position. It’s still hard to see beyond an England win, and after a day as sloppy as this one, that’s quite an indictment. Maybe tomorrow will surprise.
Oh and one last thing: I don’t care if the Marketing Department have issued an edict that the official name is the Windies. That’s a load of old bollocks. West Indies they were, are and will ever be. Windies is a nickname, got that?