The Fifth Day Element

Well, that wasn’t a bad old day, was it?

There are some things that are tiresome to keep repeating, yet repeat them we must.  For yet again, a Test match went deep into the final session of the final, fifth day,  and those who continually lobby for four day Tests should again be hiding their faces.  They won’t of course – they stay completely silent on these occasions where their chosen affectation looks absurd. And nor is it any excuse to say the same applies in reverse to those who oppose shortening the game when it doesn’t go that far.  It’s not remotely the same, for we all know that Tests can finish in short order sometimes, it’s that it removes the option when they don’t that is the objection.

Losing a day’s play to rain, as happened here, would have killed off a four day Test completely.  All that we saw over the last two days wouldn’t have happened; Stuart Broad rattling through the West Indies batting, Ben Stokes launching himself into the role of opener in a way that Ed Smith dreamed  of Jason Roy achieving.  It wasn’t normal, no, but it was fun.

From the latter part of day four, it seemed inevitable that England would win the game, one way or another, not because of the overwhelming dominance of their position as much as the feeling that the West Indies were swimming against the tide.  They were ragged in the field this morning, faced with a Stokes assault, but they’re not the first team to fall apart when being pummelled to all parts of the ground by a fully liberated batting order.  If England’s plan was to leave themselves 85 overs to take ten wickets and dangle a slight carrot in front of the West Indies batsmen, it was slightly undermined by the pace of scoring that meant instead of a challenging but gettable 280 to win, it had become an extremely steep 312.

For a brief period in the West Indies 2nd innings when Brooks and Blackwood were together for a partnership of 120, there may have been thoughts of a truly special run-chase, but unless a team falls over completely, there’s usually a partnership in all doomed pursuits that raises hopes, only for them to be extinguished.  It was little more than a mild consideration to note it needed to continue for another couple of hours for there to be any genuine prospect of an upset.

It’s not to say the West Indies batted especially badly, but England unquestionably bowled well enough when it mattered.  It’s easy enough to fall into the trap of criticising England’s opponents as the justification for England’s victories, but it shouldn’t be a reason to forego the credit due to the likes of Stuart Broad – who had a point to prove, and did so – and Sam Curran, forever damned with faint praise by those who would focus more on what he can’t do than what he can.  As for Stokes, he chimed in with key wickets to add to his runs in both innings.  He’s England’s best batsman over the last year, England’s key slip catcher, and the bowler to whom they turn when nothing is going right.  Inevitable comparisons to other all rounders in the global game can be ignored for the time being; for this England team he’s a special player, and possibly the only one who is truly feared for what he can do.

The teams will stay at Old Trafford for the Third Test beginning on Friday, which leaves some interesting selection decisions.  Jason Holder’s post-match comments indicated that, if possible, the tourists would retain the same bowling attack, but England’s policy of rotation is going to come under considerable scrutiny.  Stokes appeared to tweak a muscle at the conclusion of the Test, and while he’ll surely play purely as a batsman if not fit to bowl, it does change the team balance somewhat.  If Bess as spinner is retained and England play with four rather than five bowlers, then Anderson, Archer, Wood, Broad, Woakes and Curran are all pushing for the three seam bowling places.  Dropping Broad might add comedy value, given the likely explosion of rage following his performances this week, but it seems he is the one bowler who ought to be confident of retaining his place.  Beyond that, there will be some extremely nervous bowlers.

We’ve had two fairly decent Tests, and we’re lucky enough to have a decider.  There are flaws in both of these teams, but whatever the outcome of the series, the West Indies are in better shape on the field than they have been for some years.  That it is a shadow of the great teams of yore is to ignore the progress they have made in terms of personnel and leadership.  Their record overseas may be a poor one, but they’re being competitive in England.  That is pleasing to see.  Perhaps it is true that we are so delighted to see cricket, and Test cricket in particular, return that we may make allowances that in other circumstances wouldn’t be granted.  So be it if that’s the case, there is time enough for that to revert to normal.

 

11 thoughts on “The Fifth Day Element

  1. dannycricket Jul 20, 2020 / 6:59 pm

    The three England bowlers with the best averages in this series are Woakes (15.20), Stokes (16.33) and Broad (18.00). In that order. Everyone else’s average in this series is over 30. It would seem pretty harsh for Woakes to miss out, I think.

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    • Sean Jul 20, 2020 / 7:12 pm

      The fact that Sam Curran is now out ‘celebrappealing’ Broad makes him hard to drop in my opinion….

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      • dannycricket Jul 20, 2020 / 7:14 pm

        Archer has to come in too, just to piss in the chips of all the journalists who called on him to be banned. Maybe England can play 7 bowlers in the next game?

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        • maggiemay Jul 20, 2020 / 7:22 pm

          you could argue that Archer was due to play in this match and Wood rested presumably so he could play in the last one. Therefore Archer has missed his spot, unless they planned to play both in the final test,

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        • Sean Jul 20, 2020 / 7:38 pm

          I’d be all for it if I’m being honest. Can’t drop Sibley though, his batting annoys all of the right people…

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  2. dArthez Jul 20, 2020 / 7:37 pm

    Good win for England. But West Indies were sometimes batting like a team that actually has not won anything overseas for a decade. Which actually is true. Sadly. Sure, they’re less bad than they used to be, but other than pinching the occasional Test of England or Pakistan in a three Test series, they have not done much. Their last series win (against the top 8 teams) was in 1994/1995 in New Zealand, which was basically the end of the road for the unbeaten West Indies team.

    The potential is there, it just seems that West Indies lack the belief to do better. Which is a shame.

    As for the third Test, bring in Cornwall. There are too many batsmen that do not contribute meaningfully, and Holder is batting way too low. Hope in particular has hardly contributed since the last time West Indies toured England, and an average of less than 25 since then is simply not good enough. Then again, unlike England, they may not have too many alternatives.

    As for England, can they actually pick a wicketkeeper-batsman?

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    • thelegglance Jul 20, 2020 / 7:44 pm

      I think it’s Root and Silverwood who make the final selection call isn’t it?

      On that issue, should the captain even have a say?

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      • dArthez Jul 20, 2020 / 9:11 pm

        A captain should obviously give input. But selection calls, no, other than protecting players – which obviously is a selectors’ job to begin with. Then again too often have the people in charged picked clearly injured players – and I would certainly argue that a captain’s job is to protect his player.

        With regards to a wicketkeeper, catching stuff and such is very important, also to protect the bowlers. And I don’t think that Buttler shines there, so if it were up to me, I’d have a word with the selectors that a better wicketkeeper would reduce the strain on the bowlers as well.

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  3. psoans Jul 21, 2020 / 11:12 am

    Sam Curran has won 78% of the games he has played in. Maybe play him as a goodluck charm?

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    • quebecer Jul 21, 2020 / 7:48 pm

      I think you’ve hit on a particular point there, especially in terms of comparisons with Woakes. Curran’s contributions don’t always stack up if you only look at the stats, but in terms of contributions to winning efforts (and crucial contributions), I can’y help thinking he is ahead of Woakes in this.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. metatone Jul 21, 2020 / 11:13 am

    This pitch was quite different to the Ageas bowl and I think you have to take that into account when looking at bowlers. If the weather is dryer, then you’ll definitely need a spinner and so Bess stays, not because I personally rate him, but it would be unfair both on him and a replacement.

    The big conundrum is that conditions would seem to suit Broad, Woakes, Anderson, Curran.
    But then, if it is at all dryer, you would need one of Archer and Wood to give some variety.

    Treating it as a “must win” – i.e. respecting that it is a series decider

    Bess
    Broad – he’s bowled better than anyone
    Archer – he’s the better of the two quicks
    Woakes and Curran? Flip a coin, you can make a case for both.

    By the stats it’s Woakes, but Curran gives more variety as the 3rd seamer.
    If it’s looking damp, lean Woakes, but dry, lean Curran.

    Of course, the weather forecast is uncertain this far out, but if it’s turning wet again, there’s a case for not playing Archer. And if you’re doubling down on swing, there’s a case for Anderson as the 4th bowler. But I’m torn.

    I’d personally send Buttler to the ODI squad and bring Foakes in.

    I don’t see any way to replace Stokes as a bowler, fill in with some Root overs I guess, can’t weaken the batting to add another bowler as the batting isn’t that strong.

    All this is cruel on Jimmy, but I don’t see a way around it, as he’s at his best with the new ball, but I’m no longer convinced he’s the top 2 option with the new ball. And if there is no swing, he can keep it tight but doesn’t have the wicket threat he used to.

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