West Indies vs England: First Test, Day Four

What is there really to say? England lost this Test in the first (abject) innings and the last two days has largely been about how long the West Indies cat intended to torture the English mouse, and then see if the England batsmen could make a better fist of things second time around.

To that extent, today was a modest success, at least in the first half. Certainly Rory Burns put a tick against his name with a fluent innings that ended when he someone missed a fairly innocuous straight ball. Perhaps it was a question of concentration more than anything, just before a break, which would be unfortunate to say the least. Still, beating up on the top scorer is an English pastime that is indulged far too often. His idiosyncratic bat lift distracts from what appears very good weight distribution in his shots. Whether there are too many shots is another matter, and we shall see how he develops.

Certainly he is in a better place than Jennings, who fought hard but again played a horrible waft outside off stump to a ball that he didn’t need to play, and hadn’t got close to. As a result, he played entirely with his hands, with the obvious result. He’s clearly trying his hardest, but it is his judgement rather than his technique that is letting him down most often.

Thereafter there were pretty twenties and thirties, as England fell apart to the newly fearsome spin bowling of Roston Chase, who managed to lure English batsmen into some remarkably careless shots. Teams that find ways to get themselves out like this betray scrambled brains, lack of confidence in their method and uncertainty at how to play. It’s all there, and in spades.

To a degree, the fact the game had long gone made the second innings irrelevant, but both for their own confidence and to make a statement that they really can play, losing with dignity and forcing the opposition to strain for the win can be valuable in a series context. Collapsing to defeat as England ultimately did has the opposite effect.

The problem is that by and large this collection of players is the best England have. Whether it is down to the progressive sidelining of the first class game or the rise of short form cricket, or a combination of both, English batsmen have no sense of permanence. Even if they score runs, they do so quickly – batting out a day seems mentally beyond most of them. Perhaps ironically, the one who looks most capable of doing that is Ben Stokes.

As for the West Indies, they have thoroughly outplayed England, and perhaps it was the ultimate salt in the wound that having expressed surprise at England playing two spinners, their own part-time version demolished England’s batting comprehensively, to record the best figures of his career.

England will doubtless make changes for the second Test – Broad will presumably return, at least Rashid and possibly Moeen too will be dropped, while the question of how long Jennings will be persevered with will come up again.

There’s no reason to assume England will be as poor next time around, but these abject defeats aren’t occasional events, they are fairly regular. Two figure totals are also becoming regular. They can play better, and they probably will. But it doesn’t change much, the brittle nature of England’s game is inherent and endemic. And after Anderson and Broad call it a day, the bowling future looks equally uncertain.

There will be the usual over-reaction to defeat and the gnashing of teeth about what happened. There shouldn’t be. Not because it’s not a terrible defeat, but because the structural issues around English cricket have been there for ages. Bad defeats don’t make that more obvious, good wins like in Sri Lanka don’t make it less. But pretending it’s about one performance is to condemn everyone to the same next time around.

To put it another way, is anyone actually surprised? The ability of the team to play rash shots and collapse is a known feature of the team, muddled selection is another. Granting a part time spinner eight wickets on a pitch not helpful to spin merely another indicator of the position they are in.

In times past, a recognition of the problems in the game and a concerted effort to put them right would be the response. Not any more. Now we have a Chief Executive who channels his inner Iraqi spokesman to insist all is well, and the future is exciting. Many may beg to differ.