England vs. West Indies, 1st Test, Day 5

What. A . Game.

After watching Wednesday’s turgid rainathon and Thursday’s parade of England wickets, the last thing I was expecting to see on Sunday was a nailbiting finish. But that’s what I got today, with both teams’ strengths and frailties leading to a tense final day.

England’s innings didn’t last long in the morning, with the tailenders adding another 29 runs to their overnight total for the last two wickets. This left West Indies with a target of 201 runs to win the first Test of the series.

There were two main themes to the West Indies innings. One was Jofra Archer, who looked a step above the other England bowlers in terms of wicket taking threat. This went from the start of the day to the end, with Archer bowling 17 of the 64 overs in the day and looking dangerous throughout. He began by hitting John Campbell in the foot with a yorker, causing the West Indies opener to retire hurt in just the fourth over. A couple of overs later, Kraigg Brathwaite inside edged a ball from Archer onto the stumps. Archer’s next over saw the end of Shamarh Brooks’ day, with the Barbadian trapped LBW. In just his first four overs, Archer cut through the West Indies top order and arguably put England in the position of clear favourites.

Which brings us to to the second theme: England throwing away chances with poor fielding and a lack of discipline. In the afternoon session, England missed three clear chances to take wickets and put themselves in the driver’s seat. Zak Crawley fumbled a run out chance after a mixup between Chase and Blackwood left them almost at the same end, and Rory Burns appeared to lose sight of a chance in the slips, but the worst one had to be Buttler spilling a glove down the leg side from Jermaine Blackwood. The West Indian batsman went on to score another 75 runs before being dismissed just before the finish. It is no exaggeration to say that this drop almost certainly cost England the game.

The bowlers weren’t entirely blameless either, or at least the captain. Ben Stokes overstepped the bowling crease twice for wickettaking chances, although the first one was dropped and the second time he took a wicket with his next delivery. Anderson didn’t seem entirely on the ball either, with his bowling being mostly defensive without much sideways movement. Overall, there was definitely an impression that England were not sharp in the field.

The West Indies were deserved winners, but England have to wonder what might have been. There was little to choose between the two teams at the end, and questions about the lineup, the decision at the toss and the quality of their fielding abound. I myself found myself rooting for the West Indies by the end. They bravely withstood a barrage by Archer, with injured opener John Campbell returning in the final few overs to take the tourists over the line. More than that, these people came thousands of miles into the midst of an epidemic, spending weeks in quarantine, just to play us at cricket. It would almost be a shame if they left with no victories for their efforts.

For the next Test, I’m not sure exactly what changes Ed Smith and Chris Silverwood will make. After the selections for this game, I doubt anyone could predict what they will come up with. Joe Root is certain to return, and the consensus is that Joe Denly will be the one to make way in England’s top four.

There’s certainly a very solid argument that Denly has failed to take his chance, with his 29 runs from 70 balls yesterday underlining both his key strength and weakness. He consistently gets in, lasting at least 30 balls in 75% of his Test innings. This compares well to Zak Crawley (62.5%, from a small sample), Rory Burns (64.5%), and even Joe Root (67.9%). The problem for Denly is that he also consistently fails to turn those starts into big scores, which is why he also has the worst Test average of the five likely contenders for the top four at Old Trafford.

It would seem virtually certain that Stuart Broad will return at Old Trafford, unless he is going to be punished for his forthright interview on Sky Sports. Surely only a complete idiot would play Archer and Wood in three Tests over the course of twenty-one days but, between Ed Smith and England’s medical staff, I couldn’t rule it out completely. Chris Woakes and Sam Curran would also be eager for inclusion, particularly if conditions were in any way similar to the first two days in Southampton.

Dom Bess has probably done enough to keep his place in the side for now, with 2/51 at an economical run rate being very useful first innings figures for a spinner in England. Ollie Pope had a poor game, scoring just 24 runs, but has a Test average of over forty since his debut in 2018 and therefore must be one of the first names on the team sheet.

Speaking of players who average over forty in Tests since their debut in 2018: Ben Foakes. The continued selection of Jos Buttler in England’s Test team is puzzling on two fronts. Firstly, the England team is essentially operating with completely separate squads for red and white ball cricket this summer and so it deprives the ODI and T20 teams of arguably their most powerful batsman.

Secondly, it is generally accepted that he is the worst wicketkeeper of the three in contention and that it is his alleged batting prowess that keeps him in the side. Buttler’s  drop of Blackwood in the second innings certainly won’t help him make his case as the best available gloveman. The obvious problem with that is that his form with the bat has been poor for a long time. He averages 23.22 with the bat since the start of 2019. It’s even worse than that though, when you factor in that until last November he was selected as a specialist batsman. Jonny Bairstow was dropped after averaging 18.00 from seven games as England wicketkeeper after succeeding Ben Foakes. Since replacing Bairstow as England’s keeper in New Zealand, Jos Buttler has averaged 18.36 in six Tests.

After three months without cricket (or much else), the next couple of months will be something of a feast for English cricket fans. Between now and the end of August, there won’t be a single break of more than three days between men’s England games. The second Test starts on Thursday at Old Trafford, and I for one can’t wait!

As always, please comment on the game or anything  else below.