It is, as some people seem incapable of grasping in these divisive times, possible for many things to be true, without being contradictory, or even remotely a criticism.
Thus, it is entirely the case that this was not an exciting day’s cricket. Turgid, largely. Absolutely it is true that Sibley scored slowly and was some way short of being a delight to watch. But nonetheless there’s not the slightest thing wrong with any of that. England plodded along after losing early wickets, setting a platform, taking the sting out of the West Indies bowling attack, and generally batting pretty well on a surface that looks (at this stage) hard to score on.
It’s hard to know what is expected at times. An England batting order that all too often has carelessly thrown away wickets (and there was some of that today too, Joe Root notably in his first innings this summer) with reckless abandon also receives criticism when a player digs in. Not only has he done nothing wrong, he’s batted very well, on day one of a five day Test. It’s genuinely hard to understand what, apart from a lack of sixes, it can be imagined he’s failed to do today, or how he has hindered England’s chances. It’s so clearly the opposite. That Stokes hardly provided an array of dazzling strokeplay either ought to make it clear it wasn’t a day for that. It’s not exciting to watch. True. And? Sometimes that’s how it is.
Jofra Archer’s late removal from the starting line up due to breaching the bubble rules (which can be added to the list of phrases never heard before 2020) was a perfect storm of outrage and criticism, with Michael Vaughan leading the calls for him to be dropped for the third Test, while at the same time saying he needed to be looked after. This is an insane overreaction. Why is it that every error needs to be met with a brutal clampdown? Archer has made a mistake, he’s a young man, and for entirely sensible reasons has been removed from the team for this Test. That isn’t a punishment, it’s a rational response to the requirements of playing a Test match in isolation from those outside. It’s a minor infraction that could have had serious repercussions had it not become known until the Test had begun, for it’s entirely possible it would have required both teams to self-isolate rather than play. OK, so all can be in agreement it was a truly daft and thoughtless thing to do, that’s not in question. But it doesn’t help him or anyone else to continue smacking him over the head until he begs for mercy on this. He probably feels embarrassed enough as it is – if he doesn’t, then it can be conceded there is a problem, but there’s no reason to assume that at all.
Covid-19 has been a challenge for everyone, a determination in some quarters to hammer a young man purely to express outrage is utterly distasteful, counterproductive and rather childish. Put him in the stocks for all the good it will do.
There is one further area where England have got themselves in something of a pickle. Sam Morshead from the Cricketer raised the point that it could be suggested one reason for Jos Buttler’s continued inclusion is that he isn’t in the ODI squad, meaning if he was dropped from the Test team, he would be playing no cricket at all. Morshead wasn’t pushing this idea as a full explanation, he was idly musing on whether it might be a factor, but it is to be hoped not for it is more akin to ensuring a player at least gets a game in the Sunday 2nd XI rather than an instance of choosing the best Test line up. Equally, with the removal of Archer from the side, England refused to countenance the idea of Wood, rested for this match, being brought back in as a like for like replacement. This is simply odd – for it could be seen as a reluctance to try and pick the best team, but instead to focus entirely on the planned rotation for the sake of it. Perhaps not, perhaps the belief was that the best player to be picked wasn’t a fast bowler at all, but at first sight it seems a strange way of going about things, more wedded to principle than strategy.
All in all, a decent day’s play for England, and a frustrating one for the West Indies after an excellent start. Unless it goes monumentally badly for one team, it’s always a setting up day, and so far so good for the hosts. What happens tomorrow either way doesn’t alter that.