West Indies vs. England, 1st Test, Day 3 – Wicketless

Cricket is a funny game sometimes. Yesterday, Sean had to write a report on a day where 18 wickets fell. Today, literally no wickets whatsoever. I’m not sure which I’d prefer, but it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting to write about when play started…

The day started with the West Indies enjoying a lead of 339 runs with 4 wickets remaining in their second innings, and England’s bowlers already fatigued after spending almost two full days in the field with no prospect of saving the game. Jason Holder and Shane Dowrich were the last decent batsmen left for the West Indies before their tail. This, together with their team’s commanding position in the game, gave them a license to attack England’s bowlers at will. They took advantage of this license, smashing Moeen, Rashid and Curran around the ground.

Holder and Dowrich coasted through the morning session without any alarms, adding another 110 to their team’s total in the process. Holder survived an LBW appeal soon after lunch from a Joe Root legspinner which, if England had any reviews left, would have been out. There were signs that the fielders were feeling the heat too, as Burns, Foakes and Buttler all missed chances to break the partnership. Eventually it was a personal milestone which ended the West Indies innings, with captain Jason Holder declaring after reaching his double century. The partnership totalled 295 runs in 411 balls and will have immensely pleased the West Indies fans, not to mention the WICB as they sell tickets for Day 4.

In an even more unlikely turn of events, the wicketless streak continued in England’s innings. Rory Burns scored freely whilst Jennings played defensively through to the close of play. They finished on 56-0, a mere 571 runs behind.

Today’s play will be used as ammunition to attack England’s bowlers, whilst completely ignoring the game situation. England’s bowlers were knackered after spending almost two full days in the field and in a position where they would certainly lose, whilst the West Indian batsmen had nothing to lose and played like it.

Adil Rashid will perhaps be the most vulnerable, having failed to take a wicket in this game and being by far the least economical English bowler (Not counting Jennings, who isn’t really a bowler). It was telling that Root bowled himself more than Rashid in the second inning, suggesting that the captain has lost faith in the leg spinner (if he had any to begin with). Rashid’s selection was presumably a reaction to the pitch, which appeared dry and mostly bare and many people expected to break up and spin sharply. Either England’s brains trust misread the pitch or failed to consider that their team might allow the West Indies to bat twice before Day 4, but there wasn’t much in the pitch for Rashid to work with. None of the three grounds England will be playing at in this series have been particularly spin-friendly in recent years, a fact which might cause some people to question Ed Smith’s wisdom since he selected three spinners in his squad. I don’t expect Rashid to play in the next two Tests, the question will be whether he will return to the Test team for the Ashes this summer. I hope he does, because Australians hate batting against spin.

The other bowler drawing a lot of fire is Sam Curran. Dropping him is more complicated, since he has been in very good form with the bat. In the 8 Tests he’s played for England, Sam Curran ranks third in terms of runs scored behind only Root and Buttler. His Test batting average is higher than Burns, Pope, Stoneman, Malan, Westley, Dawson, Jennings, Duckett, Vince, Hales and Lyth. In fact, Ben Foakes, Dom Bess and Haseeb Hameed (remember him?) are the only three English batsmen to have debuted since 2014 and have a higher batting average than Sam Curran. Even in England’s calamitous first innings, he was the second-highest runscorer with 14 runs. All that said, unless he’s batting in the top 6 it will be difficult to include him if England don’t rate him even as their fifth bowler.

Root’s tactics might also come under closer scrutiny after he chose to bowl Anderson and Stokes several times throughout the day. With no rest weeks between the three Tests, asking both bowlers to work so hard in a lost cause seems at best pointless, and at worst risks fatigue and injury later in the series.

Whilst England’s cause might seem lost, there are several players who might want to secure their place with a big score tomorrow. I wouldn’t put any money on them lasting all day though…