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.