It’s been a busy old week for the site, and Sean’s piece about the ECB, the Test team and the county set up has attracted lots of deserved attention. For those yet to read it, it can be found here .
For England, there is the small matter of a Test match in St Lucia to deal with. Having been comprehensively walloped in the first two Tests, England will go to St Lucia knowing it is likely to be the quickest pitch of the series, as the hosts finally appear to have realised that playing to their strengths reaps dividends, especially against teams who have shown a marked dislike for pace and bounce. Whether it is as uneven as the Antigua surface is to some extent beside the point, England have struggled badly on perfectly flat quick, bouncy pitches in recent times, and the insistence of the ECB on producing slow, low tracks at home, allied with the pushing to the margins of the red ball county game mean it is hardly surprising that England batsmen react as if stung by a wasp when they come across bounce and pace. Still, that’s no kind of excuse, given it’s entirely of their own doing in the first place, and the lack of preparation – or more specifically the apparent preparation and selection for the kinds of pitches seen in years past are a failure of planning that hasn’t attracted as much attention as it should have. England’s first Test selection was utterly wrong, and how they got it that wrong should receive more scrutiny, beyond simply blaming captain and coach.
This time around, they at least don’t have to deal with trying to bowl to Jason Holder for a day at a time, banned as he is from the match for a slow over rate. There has been much sympathy for him, but in principle the decision is fair enough – it is the lack of consistency that is the problem. However, it needs to be said that much noise concerning slow over rates comes from the likes of us, while anecdotally, it can’t be said that it is a pressing concern for most, which perhaps puts us as outliers.
To replace him, the West Indies have called up an all rounder in Keemo Paul as a direct replacement, and another fast bowler in Oshane Thomas. Which they go with will say a lot about how fragile they believe England to be after their previous drubbings.
For England, unless injury forces a change from Stokes and Foakes, if they do change anything it is most likely to be to bring in Mark Wood, who whatever his shortcomings in his career to date, and injury has plagued him, is certainly the only member of the squad who might have the pace to match the West Indians. It really is like being back in 1985 – all we need is for someone to talk about meeting fire with fire. If this is what England go with, the player at most risk is Sam Curran, keeping up the fine tradition of England replacing a bowler when the batsmen fail. Wood himself directly commented on that, in a delightfully off message observation that will not have endeared him to the England hierarchy.
“I think I’ve got a chance. It’s very harsh to leave a bowler out when it’s the batting that’s failed but that always seems to be the case, doesn’t it?”
Optimism is in short supply, but it is always possible that England will have learned some lessons from the series to date. Perhaps they’ll bat more responsibly, and not assume they are in a one day international. Perhaps they’ll consider occupation of the crease to be a valid aim. Perhaps they’ll bowl to do more than try and invite the kinds of reckless shots that England batsmen make. But the evidence to date suggests it unlikely. Still, that’s the beauty of sport.
The absence of Holder would make any England win slightly hollow, and it could be argued that for England to really look properly at what has happened on this tour and why they need to be resoundingly beaten so no one can try and look for the positives. Yet the ECB in recent years seem to care not a jot for reverses (away Ashes whitewashes are brushed off as being of little consequence, especially when they can’t blame the same person again) , content to win mostly at home and occasionally away if playing an understrength opponent. This tour will be forgotten quickly when the World Cup comes around, though that does highlight the importance of England winning it to remotely justify the sidelining of the Test team, and the selection of a near on one day batting line up in the Test arena. 2019 does have the potential for the ECB to claim all is well and pat themselves on the back for their brilliance, but there will undoubtedly now be a few nervous glances over a shoulder or two at Lord’s, and so there should be. It’s been a high stakes gamble, one which requires everything for the remainder of this year to go right . The problem is that their concern is on the basis of how it reflects on their strategy, not a care about the game of cricket as a reason in itself.
None of this should be a surprise to anyone. It still isn’t that England are an awful team – faced with friendly conditions they are a match for anyone. But they have been found out away from home, and their limited approach does not serve them well in alien surrounds. Whoever would have predicted that?