There is an old adage to never judge a pitch until England have collapsed on it and Day 2 of this Test showed that these words still ring true after all these years. In fact it’s a close run thing whether it took me longer to write this post than England managed to survive against the West Indian bowling attack.
If Day 1 was one of those days that momentum shifted back and forward between both teams, then Day 2 offered the exact opposite, this was a procession for the West Indies bowlers and another humiliating and inept batting display by the England batting unit. There was much talk at the end of play around whether England picked the right team for the Test or whether they might have got away with one yesterday; however the answers to both of the above question were soon answered as an emphatic No as the West Indies blew our batting away within 30 overs through a good performance from their seam attack. In normal circumstances, bowling the West Indies out for 289 after they had opted to bat first would seem to be a decent result; however the way that England’s bowling attack looked so toothless up until Tea and then coupled with the fact that Jimmy and Stokes got the ball to seriously talk after tea all seemed to add up to the fact that the selectors and/or Root had blown another big call. I’ve mentioned a number of times that I am a huge Sam Curran fan but he is not (and I doubt will ever be) an opening bowler at Test Level certainly compared to a senior England bowler with the height to trouble the batsmen on a slightly uneven pitch and over 430 wickets in the locker.
The fact that the West Indies had gone into this Test with only a part-time spinner should have also raised alarm, as I would generally back the home team to understand their own conditions than the touring team. It very quickly soon became clear that 2 spinners was an unwanted luxury on this pitch, coupled with the fact that the one spin bowler they didn’t pick was the one I’d have picked myself as having a spinner in the side that concedes on average 4.5 an over and regularly lets the batsmen rotate the strike is less than ideal. It’s not rocket science to observe that the West Indians first innings score of 289 is by no means a massive score and in many way shouldn’t have been close to match winning one. However when you factor in England’s ability to collapse in a total heap in the first game of many an away series alongside the fact that the selectors felt they had to pick a number of all-rounders to make up for the frailty of the specialist batsmen, alarm bells should have been ringing loud and clear at the end of Day 1. Day 2 only managed to confirm our worst fears.
England did what they needed to do in wrapping up the tail with minimum fuss this morning, with Stokes bagging his fourth and Jimmy bagging his first 5fer of the winter. So in the absence of any annoying tail-end stands, it was down to England’s openers to bat sensibly and get England off to a good start. There naturally has been a strong focus on the opening slots with the retirement of the ‘chosen one’ and the revolving door that has been at the other end with discarded opener after discarded opener. With both Jennings and Burns having a solid Test Series in Sri Lanka, this was now the chance to further their cause on a pitch away from the sub-continent against a lively new ball attack and to reward the selectors with their selections. Sadly, maybe even predictably, this was not the case. Jennings got a start before lazily wafting at a wide ball from Holder and Burns didn’t seem to be switched on straight after lunch, when he played at an innocuous Roach delivery with an angled bat which then rolled back to hit the stumps. Naturally this was not the start that neither the opening batsmen nor the England team wanted and it did very little to suggest that these players might not be best suited to opening in Test Cricket. Sure this is very early in the series, but neither batsmen should be happy or proud in the way they got out and there will need to be a marked improvement if England aren’t going to be heading into a home Ashes series with either one or two major question marks around our opening batsmen.
If there was a major disappointment in how both openers fared, then this disappointment soon turned to outright alarm with both Bairstow and Root following both openers back into the changing room in quick time. Bairstow might count himself a little unlucky after being bowled after being struck on his elbow, though this doesn’t take away from the fact that Bairstow is hearing the death rattle of stumps being struck far too often for a top order batsman, whilst Root never looked settled and was undone LBW by a great delivery from Holder that originally looked like it may have done too much but would have ended up canoning into leg stump. England’s soft underbelly was being exposed again by a good, but no means top class bowling unit and the lower middle order once again had a massive job to do to rescue England’s ailing top order. This time though the lower order could bail out England’s underachieving batsmen, with Stokes, Buttler & Foakes all falling cheaply and Moeen trying his best to win the ‘worst shot of the day’ competition with the sort of shot that genuinely gives club players the shivers. By this time outright alarm had turned to blind panic with none of England’s batsmen able to hold up an end, rein in their shot making and play for time until the ball got softer, after all, this is the aggressive model that the captain wants his team to play with, which is admirable unless you’re 61 – 8 and staring down the barrel. The West Indies eventually took the final 2 wickets to reduce England to 77 all out, another humiliating collapse to add to the record books. It’s only a shame that they didn’t put England back in to follow on as we might have all got the day off tomorrow, though naturally my one crumb of comfort is that Danny will now have to write a review of tomorrow’s play.
Naturally praise has to go to the West Indies pace attack who bowled quickly and put the ball in good areas, but this is no West Indies bowling attack of the 80’s. Kemar Roach is hardly Malcolm Marshall nor is Holder the reincarnation of Courtney Walsh and the pitch certainly isn’t Sabina Park 1998. Yes the West Indies bowled well and credit must go to them for that, but the English batsmen looked unsure about which way up to hold the bat let alone look like actually score some runs. I’m sure the players and management will be quick with the excuses that they hadn’t had enough time in the middle (well make time then by touring longer) or that the West Indies had the best conditions to bat in, but again this is no excuse. This happens time and time again at the start of England’s away tours, one only has to look back a year ago, when we were bundled out for 58 in New Zealand. Sure they’ll be talk about ‘accountability’ and ‘putting right a wrong’ but it’s the same empty rhetoric that is employed after every dreadful batting performance. Nothing ever changes except maybe the standard response bowler being dropped for the next game. Personally I’m just thankful that I have little attachment to this team. In the past I’d have been incredibly annoyed perhaps even raging at this performance, now I find it almost amusing although I would emphasize the word ‘almost’.
At the close of play, West Indies extended their lead to 350, mainly down to the fact that their board wants to protect their Day 3 revenue rather than put England’s inept team to the sword and risk a 2-day defeat. Mind you, perhaps this wasn’t completely communicated to the West Indies batsmen who batted like they had a hot potato in one hand and an important round of golf to attend tomorrow afternoon in the back of their minds. This strange approach from the West Indies batting unit allowed Moeen to add a few junk wickets to his tally and to boost his average with the ball to once again enhance the pretence that he is a Test class bowler or even an international class all-rounder (as a FYI, he is averaging a tad over 11 with the bat this winter). Sadly, once again this was way after the horse had bolted.
England may have a statistical chance of chasing down a score under 400 in the fourth innings, if England can skittle the West Indies tomorrow morning. In reality though, this game is over after 2 days and what a soul-crushing defeat it will be. It just comes down to when the West Indies fancy putting England and their long-suffering fans out of their misery once again.
This might be a little more a ramble than I thought it was going to be, so please feel free to add a few more insightful comments below: