Ah, the start of a series in the Caribbean. If it isn’t quite the highly anticipated series of years past, it does at least have the advantage for an English audience of good scheduling, both in terms of post-work cricket to watch, and in reminding everyone of the sunshine in the depths of January – this is, after all, the prime justification for the broadcast of Death in Paradise.
Given the West Indies side, talented but still recovering from the schisms of the last decade, the pitches that would give them the best chance are those with a bit of life, a bit of pace and plenty of bounce. Certainly their quartet taken as a whole are quicker than England’s, particularly after the decision to drop Stuart Broad. But there is a contradiction between the best interests of the West Indies team, and the related needs of the cricket board and tourist boards, both of whom see dollars of various descriptions dancing in front of them, and have no intention of wasting the opportunity.
Thus it is that to the surprise of precisely no-one, the pitch turned out to be on the slow side, prompting England to select two spinners, while the hosts stuck with four seamers and the locals insisted the pitch was unlikely to turn. That meant for the third time in four Tests Broad was omitted, this time for Sam Curran, and naturally prompting whispers about the senior man’s future.
It is perhaps a little premature to do that, but there seems no doubt at all it is Anderson who is the first choice of the two at this stage of their careers, and probably rightly so. The one thing that has really returned to bite Broad was illustrated by Root’s observation that Curran offered the team more batting depth. Broad’s decline from almost being considered an all rounder to virtual ferret may well now be the factor that goes against him. A reminder that cricketers now have to be multi-faceted if they’re not right on top of their discipline.
As for the day’s play, it is forever the case that unless one side has a genuine shocker of Melbourne 2010 standards, at the end of play it can only be said that England finished well, but the West Indies are in the game.
Anderson remains an exceptional performer, and three late wickets from him and one from Stokes tilted the balance significantly. Yet a total of 300 would be at least adequate enough to provoke sighs of relief from the authorities, and it can’t be said that England are sufficiently reliable with the bat to be sure of matching them. But there must be a sense of a missed opportunity in the home dressing room -five batsmen passed 40, none reached 60, albeit Shimron Hetmyer is still at the crease on 56, and has looked very good getting there.
Second new ball apart, the England seamers looked unthreatening much of the time, Stokes probably being the pick until Anderson’s late burst. But it didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know, England lack the express pace to overcome a sluggish pitch, they don’t have mystery spin and they are heavily reliant on the exceptional skills of their veteran spearhead, even on a pitch that doesn’t suit him.
In the morning, Hetmyer may well need to try to score rapidly, but the real meat of this game will be seeing what the home team can get out of this pitch in response.