England have won. Honour is restored, places in this summer’s side have been cemented, and the potential red faces from the England team being whitewashed have been avoided. So why don’t I feel happy about it?
The truth is that I look at this game and see how England could, and probably should, have performed throughout this series. The West Indies are a poor Test side. It’s not meant to sound patronising and arrogant, they just are. This is only the second series they have won in the last 4 years at home. They are one of just three Test teams with a losing record at home in the last 4 years (the other two being Ireland and Zimbabwe). Not a single player in their side had a batting average above 40 before the series started. To be frank, they are ranked 8th in the ICC Test rankings for a reason.
One reason why England have played much better in this Test might be that the batsmen have finally acclimated to the conditions and bowling. It was arrogance or incompetence that made the ECB schedule just two two-day games as a warmup for this series, or possibly both. Not only would a couple of full games have given England’s batsmen more time to hone their technique and approach in the conditions, they might also have allowed England to make their selection decisions (leaving Curran, Rashid and Jennings out) much sooner.
Another reason for the improvement in their fortunes might be their approach at the crease. England’s batsmen showed a willingness to take their time and concentrate on keeping out the onslaught of the West Indian opening bowlers. It seems self-evident to me (but not, apparently, to professionals like Trevor Bayliss or Mark Ramprakash) that the best way to blunt a bowling attack dependent on pace is you make them bowl as much as possible. I doubt there’s a bowler in the world who consistently bowls over 90 mph in his third spell of the day. Fast bowlers are also more prone to injury as they bowl more overs, as happened to Keemo Paul in this game. Finally, it forces the bowling side to go to their 4th or 5th options. In this series that means spin bowler Roston Chase who (even after having taken 8/60 in Bridgetown) has a bowling average of 44.46. That is clearly something England should be aiming for.
Today’s play was not, for me at least, particularly interesting. With a lead of over 400 runs at the start of play, England’s position in this game was already virtually unassailable. What followed was a steady progression toward the inevitable England win. Anderson made the early breakthroughs, dismissing Campbell, Brathwaite and Bravo in quick succession. Campbell’s wicket in particular deserves a watch, with Moeen Ali catching a rocket at gully.
Things settled down a bit after Wood took the wicket of Shai Hope from a bouncer, and the game became essentially a contest between Moeen Ali and the West Indian batsmen. A contest which Ali won, thanks to the massive lead which the batsmen had accrued, and the spinner took another 3 wickets.
This secured Moeen’s place as England’s top wicket-taker in this series, as he was in Sri Lanka, which finishes what must be considered an exceptional winter with the ball for the allrounder. His bowling average was 24.18 in the last two series, which is a massive improvement on his next-best winter in 2016/17 when could only manage 42.90. Whilst his bowling has seemingly improved, his batting hasn’t been particularly strong. Since his recall last summer , Ali only averages 18.26 with the bat. It seems somewhat ironic, since I’d suspect he might not have been given that chance at all if it wasn’t for his batting prowess.
Stokes took the last two wickets to finish the game, and the series. Shannon Gabriel edged outside off (having been treated to a medley of gay anthems by the Barmy Army during his brief stay on the pitch), and then the injured Keemo Paul offered a caught-and-bowled chance which Stokes gratefully took after the West Indian hit three fours in the over.
Speaking of Shannon Gabriel, it was announced this evening that he was being charged by the ICC for ‘Personal abuse of a player’ for his apparent homophobic comment to Joe Root. Because of the fact that Gabriel has already accumulated 3 demerit points in 2017 when he barged into Sarfraz, it would be impossible for the West Indian to avoid at least a one game ban if he was found guilty. Given the ICC’s decision to ban Pakistan captain for 4 games after he used racist language during a game, it would be unsurprising if the fast bowler was banned for at least 2 games as a result of his attempted insult.
It’s over five months until the next England Test match, a four-day game against Ireland in late July. Until then it’s all ODIs and T20Is, including a home World Cup in which England are the presumptive favourites. It will be interesting to watch England’s ODI team in the West Indies, at the very least to see if they have as much difficulty batting as the Test team had. The two squads share so many personnel, and yet can seem so different in ability and confidence at times.
That said, I very much prefer Test matches, so this is going to be a long five months for me…
Thanks for being with us this winter. As always, please comment below.
Good summary Danny, with you all the way on your last 2 paragraphs, a long 5 months indeed.
Quite looking forward to the ODIs and the WC.
I don’t know if we’ll win either, but we’re properly competitive and we have a working philosophy of play, so for me that’s all a pleasant change from the Test team.
Personally, I’m in a grump and I think this match result was about as meaningless as they get. It’s only the very best teams (not the WI of this era) who can keep the foot on the gas in a dead rubber. Throw in losing a bowler to injury (not to mention the suspension) and this game was over long before the ending.
Signs of hope:
1) a fit Wood is a huge asset to the team.
2) Batsmen who were out of nick have gotten some crease time in.
3) Ali did ok, but not as well as his wicket total suggests.
And that’s about it. Top order is still a mess. Bowling is still looking vulnerable when conditions don’t bring any swing for Jimmy. Better hope the Aussies don’t get their act together or it could be a painful Ashes.
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Is Wood fit? Massively slower in the second innings. Maybe he’ll be fit enough for the ODIs, but I have my doubts he’ll ever be an effective Test bowler.
As for Ali, I think he did great considering the conditions. No one really got much spin in any of the three games, but he kept control and took wickets. Maybe Leach could have done the same, but hopefully it marks a turning point for Moeen as a bowler.
Pleased as I am for Moeen (as a bowler) this winter, it must be frustrating for a specialist spinner like Leach to be on the side lines. If the justification for preferring Moeen was his batting, that justification might be a little shaky at present. It seems that from numbers 5 to 9 England these days will always shoehorn in another all rounder if they possibly can and almost regardless of the merits of available specialists.
No Tests now for five months and Smith and possibly Warner back from suspension by then. Why do I get the feeling that the 2019 Ashes series has “banana skin” written all over it?
Absolutely. I think the Ashes won’t by any means be an easy win for England, as this past series was seen (and perhaps should have been). That said, England’s allrounders all excel in home conditions. That should cover sufficiently for their batting inadequacies, whilst I’d doubt Australia are any stronger against the swinging ball than they were 4 years ago.
I didn’t say I expected him to stay fit.
But at least it’s reminded selectors and press of the virtue of a bowling style other than “medium but swings it when conditions favour” (And yes, cruel as it is, I’m looking at Sam Curran right now.)
Danny, I think he did hit 89mph once or twice in the second dig but I think the footholds had deteriorated quite a bit by then. I was watching Stokes from side on and it looked pretty bad.
I remain unconvinced…
I’m concerned about Rory Burns. By default we’re all considering him a lock in for the summer, but here’s the list of worries;
1. When facing quicks from around the wicket, he can get squared up to full deliveries and the bat comes down skewed
2. He didn’t look 100% comfortable against the short stuff
3. The West Indies were very smart in where they placed a catcher square of the wicket. Burns’ favourite shot is that nudge off his legs, but it got turned in to a possible dismissal shot with that field placement. If the Aussies put two men at short midwicket for Trott and Pietersen, I would have thought they’ll have at least one in that square position for Burns.
4. Suddenly, he was playing shots he typically wouldn’t – and getting out to them.
I hate to say it, but I think the Aussies might have him on toast.
Yeah, but who else will do it? Of England’s post-Strauss openers, I’d go with Stoneman and Burns in the Ashes. I freely admit I don’t know enough about county cricket to judge any of the players who haven’t been in televised first-class games recently though.
The who else is a question I’ve been thinking about. It seems that the three we have now are inked in for precisely that reason. Essentially, we’ve tried everyone possible, but these were the last there we went with for a reason – they didn’t look as likely as any of the others. Yet they are the ones that are benefiting from being the last picked, as it’s them that get to stay regardless because there is no one else. They are therefore under far more generous judging standards.
Essentially, if you’re gong to say, look, these are the three we are going to go with no matter what, are they really the three with the most promise and highest ceiling? If you’re gong to just stick anyway, why not go with the three most talented instead and let THEM grow in to it?
I’d far prefer, say, have three out of Robson, Roy, Stoneman, Hales, and Vince, as despite their individual flaws, they have considerably more ability (and therefore a higher ceiling) than the present incumbents. Pick the best possible three in terms of ability and stick with them, not the three that just happened to be left at the end.
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Well I’d discount Hales and Roy because they’re in the ODI team and the schedule over the next two years is crazy. The question with the rest is whether it’s better to pick someone with good physical and technical abilities (who is likely to be good at limited overs cricket) and hope they learn control and restraint, or pick a player who already has the mentality for Test cricket and hope he can adapt his technique to faster bowlers and better spin.
Jos Buttler’s success since his recall obviously is a success for the first option, but I think success in England’s top three is more likely from the second group. This is because I value solidity and consistency in the top order over the capacity to score a big hundred.
This, incidentally, is why I was so harsh on Cook in his last years. Whilst he maintained his average with occasional (very) big scores, his rate of failures was also very high. I worked out the median number of balls each opener faced in the partnership between Cook and Stoneman and (these numbers are from memory) for England’s all-time top runscorer it was around 21 and for the other batsman it was over 40. In other words, in most of the innings they shared Cook was the first dismissed. Typically within the first 8 overs. I generally valued Stoneman over Cook for this reason, even though Cook’s double hundred quite possibly rescued England from a whitewash and therefore annoyed millions of Australians, as well as giving Cook the higher average of the two openers.
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Some series marks out of 10 in the Graun: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/feb/13/england-west-indies-test-player-ratings
I know these are just clickbait, but bloody hell, only Stokes averaged over 30 across the series. Minefields, they weren’t.
Unless the pitches are rank, I’d have a more brutal scoring system where if you bat in the top 6, you have to average 40 in order to get 6/10, average 35 to get 5/10, 30 to get 4/10, 25 to get 3/10, and so on.
Obviously the Graun didn’t bother to rate the West Indians, just in case.
Maybe the Ashes could prove to be a good “learning experience”
We are due one. If England lose every Test series except the home Ashes, some people will still say things are fine. “At least we beat Australia.”
I think the Ashes are likely to be two of the worst Ashes teams together in recent years. . Which batting line up can scrape together enough runs to fall over the winning line?
The good news is it could be a close series as the two teams are equally flakey. It may come down to whether Anderson and Broad have one last Ashes effort in them.
If the Aussies can come up with a batting line up that can put 300 on the board regularly they may win their first away Ashes for quite a while. August seems a long way away right now.
Mark, that’s pretty much been the deal with all our recent home series.
Meanwhile. In the cricketer. Here’s idiot Henderson calling us names…
Perhaps Henderson can explain why England in recent years have had the nations leading run scorer of all time. The two leading England wicket takers of all time, and Root, who will probably end up second to Cook in all time run scorers, and yet they are still shite?
Now that would be a column worth writing, but I doubt he is up to it. Instead he prefers to write “greatest ever” trash. Who cares who loves Root more than Gower or KP? Henderson just writes click bait for morons now.
Meanwhile in Durban, South Africa have gifted a Test to Sri Lanka. Had only 78 runs to get the last pair disloded( Kusal Perera and Fernando, a rabbit if there was one), but failed to do so.
Why SA keep playing Tests in Durban is a mystery to me. They can hardly win Tests there.
But of course no investigation from ACSU there.