As it turned out, the weather held off just long enough for England to take the last of the 8 wickets they needed to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 series win. Only just, for mere moments after the final celebrations, the heavens opened. Whether that downpour would have been enough to curtail play for sufficiently long to cause West Indian chagrin is a moot point, for there was a sense of inevitability about the steady procession of wickets and little in the way of meaningful resistance. Jermaine Blackwood had a hint of permanence about him, but he too was swept away in a tide of wickets as Chris Woakes destroyed the middle order to finish with 5-50. If ever there was a day to come up with a Michelle and still play second fiddle, this was it, for Broad took all of the others to fall to a bowler, including both his 500th Test victim and also the match-winning one. The boy sure knows how to seize the limelight.
Much will be written about how this series was more about cricket being played at all, and the generosity of spirit in the West Indies team to come at all; they deserve the plaudits coming their way. Despite local outbreaks, the Covid-19 situation is much improved from where it was when they agreed to tour, and while at present playing cricket seems an entirely reasonable activity, it was far from the case when they first accepted the invitation. Cricket boards may have many reasons for acting the way they do, but individual players are the ones who walk the walk. It isn’t just England who should be expressing their gratitude, it is all of sport, both here and abroad. It may not be easy, and without spectators it may only be a facsimile of Test cricket, but all journeys begin with a single step. That it was the West Indies players who took that first step should always be appreciated.
For the players involved, there were the usual winners and losers. Stuart Broad himself performed the admirable feat of not only being highly vocal in his disappointment at being left out of the first Test, but of backing up his words to the point he was duly anointed Player of the Series despite missing a third of it. He’s been a peculiarly under-appreciated player throughout much of his career, his exceptional spells where he can destroy any batting line up often seeming to lead to irritation about his performances the rest of the time rather than appreciation of the box office displays themselves. Yet his record is a fine one, and more intriguingly, he appears, at 34, to be getting better. The lengths are fuller, the line straighter, and the sense of danger when he’s bowling is palpable. Perhaps now he is being accepted for what he has become, and with a career much nearer the end than the beginning, taken to heart as someone to be enjoyed while he’s still around.
For much of his career he has been the foil to James Anderson. At last, it appears to now be the other way around. He’s the main man in the England bowling attack, and revelling in the adulation. And why the hell not? The stratified heights of the 500 Test wicket bowling club is analysed in terms of bowling averages and strike rate, but in Broad’s case both are continuining to fall. In the last two years his average has been under 21, and his strike rate a quite exceptional 41 balls per wicket. At his age, it cannot continue forever, but it is something to be thoroughly admired for as long as it does. Nor is it any kind of accident, for his awareness of his age led him to make adjustments to his run up and action in the hope of extending his career. It seems to be working.
Ben Stokes topped the batting averages, a Test series coming of age in many ways, for although his performances had become notable over the last few years, this was the one where few could argue with the statement that he’s now England’s best batsman. And not a bad bowler either.
He wasn’t alone in having a series to look back on with some pleasure. The opening pair of Sibley and Burns both made consistent contributions, lending the first wicket partnership a sense of permanence that has been absent from England for quite some time. Those who complained about the scoring rate missed the point spectacularly; there are plenty in the England batting line up who can score quickly, but their repeated exposure to the new ball in a side all too often reduced to 30-3 suppressed their own ability to score, and laid too much pressure on Root. It would not be in the least surprising to see his performances with the bat pick up as a result.
Neither Burns nor Sibley are the finished product, nor are either likely at this stage to scare bowling attacks around the world. Indeed, their struggles to find scoring areas against spin made it clear there is work to be done. That isn’t the point, stability is sufficient in this England side after a period of anything but. And a word here for Joe Denly, who has likely played his last Test innings: his scores were ultimately insufficient to maintain a Test career, particularly at his age. Nevertheless, against Australia last year and South Africa in the winter, he did at least set a template for occupation of the crease that seemed entirely out of keeping with the helter-skelter (and markedly unsuccessful) England approach of recent times. He brought a sense of calmness to an innings that was refreshing in its rarity in the current age. There is no disgrace at all in not being quite good enough to make it in Test cricket, for very few do. To have been moved on having at least made some kind of mark is to have some satisfaction.
The jury remains well and truly out on Jos Buttler’s place in the side. His score of 67 in the first innings of the Third Test may be sufficient to keep him involved for the time being in the series against Pakistan, but he must surely be running out of time to be the man in possession. It’s all been so predictable, for his batting career in Tests is more or less what would be exprected from his batting career in all red ball cricket. Bairstow (if he can sort out his technical flaws) and Foakes are too good to be left on the sidelines by an under-contributing rival.
For the bowlers, England have something of an embarrassment of riches, at least on paper. Anderson is no longer the attack leader in anything but name, but he remains a highly potent weapon, even if one used more sparingly than in the past. Archer, Wood, Curran and Stone offer variety and potency – it is a greater selection from which to choose than appeared likely a couple of years ago when the bowling stocks post-Broad and Anderson looked frighteningly bare.
And then there’s Chris Woakes. It is always a temptation to note the weaknesses of a player rather than their strengths, and while his overseas record isn’t too special, his one at home is quite exceptional. There’s nothing particularly wrong in noting that as part of an overall strategy.
For the West Indies, there were few batting pluses, and those there were are couched in a sense of frustration they weren’t greater. Jermaine Blackwood, Shamarh Brooks, Kraigg Brathwaite, Roston Chase, Shai Hope – all flattered to deceive, all looked like they could bat, all got themselves out when set. Some are young and can improve, for some it’s likely this is just who they are. For the West Indies to turn from being a competitive side into series winning one (overseas, in particular), they need to find a couple of batsmen who can suggest they will be around for more than a session. It isn’t a plea for a world class one to come along – although they would doubtless be appreciative of that – but one who the others can learn from and bat around. Ironic it may be, but perhaps they need a Joe Denly to set the tone.
They have the bowling. If they ran out of steam by the third Test in quick succession with no rotation, it’s not too surprising, but they are a decent unit and complement each other well. There is enough with which to work, and their team ultimately falling short this tour wasn’t down to the bowlers failing to perform, but the batsmen.
There is a danger of being patronising in approach when lauding the improvement of the West Indies, and they remain some distance from being good enough to be regular (or even semi-regular) victors abroad, but the difference now is that it does at least look like there is a plan and a strategy for getting there. They may not succeed, but if now at the point where Caribbean cricket is making the most of the talent at its disposal, that is something. There is not the sense of desperation at watching a West Indies team losing that has been present for all too many years.
The West Indies leave for home tomorrow, with gratitude and thanks, and doubtless with some relief on their part to be in a warmer environment than Manchester. For England, an ODI series against Ireland follows before the Pakistan Test matches begin. Some more cricket to watch, and a perhaps a better sense of where this England Test team are going and how they’re developing. In April, this seemed like a pipe dream on so many levels.
A great post Chris. You summed up the day’s play and the series, beautifully. Many thanks go to the Windies for the effort they made to play in England.
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It’s true that WI are still struggling to make an impact away from home – but I think we should also remember we’re in an era where home advantage seems to count for a lot. Certainly I can imagine England would have found this series a bigger challenge if the sun had been shining for the last two Tests, rather than providing the ideal conditions for Anderson/Broad/Woakes to just do what they do best with some swing in the air.
Lots to say about individuals, but I’ll save that for another comment. All I’ll say here is I wonder if one day we’ll look back and regret trying to turn Buttler into Gilchrist instead of appreciating his talent and potential for the limited overs game.
To come back to the overall. Of course I’m grateful that WI came to play. It’s been a long lockdown period in the Meta household (long story) and actual sport to watch has been a real pleasure. And I have to thank them genuinely for that.
But I’m left, I have to say with a bit a feeling of deja vu. WI played well in the first Test, but on top of succumbing to fatigue thanks to the schedule and the limited squad, they also made a fatal mistake in not batting first. Throw in the weather and it’s hard not to feel like this is another one of those home victories England get which if it were SL spinning their way to home victory we’d ask more questions about.
On the bright side, the bowling looks stronger than in a good while and if Sibley and Burns can step up against different bowling on different pitches, we have the makings of being competitive against better teams.
But yes, mixed feelings… also I think I hoped after the 1st Test WI would be really competitive, but they never looked quite as good again.
I find it funny that they’re essentially trying to turn Buttler into what Bairstow used to be, but they were never content with Bairstow in that role and constantly tried to turn him into something else, and now they have neither.
The “not being content” with Bairstow there had a lot to do, I think, with the fact that England were really struggling to find decent Test batsmen, with Bairstow having a lot more potential in that respect than most of the players they did play in 2017-19 and with him being a no more than competent keeper when the Lions keeper was excellent and a good batsman to boot. Which seems reasonably good selectorial logic to me. It’s what the SL selectors said to Sangakkara at some point.
I suspect that if either Bairstow had been England’s best keeper or if there had been better batsmen coming through, they would have been delighted with what he brought, even in 2017 when he wasn’t averaging nearly as much.
It’s also worth noting that no selector actually did anything about this until both Bairstow had spent a whole summer averaging 25 and Foakes had come in for completely unrelated reasons and both kept and batted better than Bairstow was doing at the time.
Sure you can say that West Indies struggle like other teams on the road. But at the moment, the only results the West Indies are defending at home are a series win against England, and a drawn series against Sri Lanka. All the other 12 series (home and away to Australia, South Africa, Pakistan, India and New Zealand; away to Sri Lanka and England) have been lost. So to put it just on ‘playing abroad’ is hard seems to gloss over that West Indies struggle at home too.
As for bowling looking strong in England, we know that. A combination of good tosses to win (against India, and perhaps to a lesser extent against South Africa in 2017 – they do not have the batting to run England close anywhere now, and will not ever have that again in all likelihood) means that the few sides that could have run England close in England (other than Australia, and New Zealand, but they are probably slated to tour again somewhere in 2412 – thank you ECB!), also means that the sides that could have done a bit better, often had to face both the worst of batting conditions and bowling conditions (India at Lord’s springs to mind). I am fairly confident India would have done a bit better at least if they had won a few of those tosses last time they toured, let alone all 5 of them.
England are the only major side to have lost quite a number of Tests at home after winning the toss (New Zealand, India and Australia have been unbeaten at home after winning the toss since 2009, 2012 and 2011 respectively). Other than beating South Africa in South Africa (and let’s be honest, who would not these days? – even Sri Lanka managed to do that), England have not achieved much on the road since the 2012 tour of India. That is where the real challenge lies.
It was so lovely to sit at home or do the chores or bustle about with the cricket on the telly all day. I did not sit and watch every single ball but did see a lot and I also appreciated the gentle crowd sound, the murmuring which, when just watching the screen with just the players showing, gave the illusion that a crowd was there.
Looking at the stadium though I could not understand why they just did not sell tickets, one seat every three seats and get an audience. It could have been done though I assume when this was arranged the situation was not clear.
all thanks to the WIndies for coming over and oh how I enjoyed Cornwall! You don’t all have t be whippet thin to play….
I enjoyed that, thanks TLG.
In reading your comments about Broad being a bowler of exceptional spells, it made me think of the way KP was labelled as a batsman of great innings, but not a great batsman. But actually both should be considered greats of their time……
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The Woakes situation is a fairly tricky one now I think. The issue to me is that his record abroad is not so much “nothing special” as downright dreadful: he’s toured in five countries in three continents and only averages less than 49 in one of them, and that’s because he snaffled three quick wickets in nine overs in one innings in a series where he literally didn’t get get another wicket in the series.
I agree with you TLG that there’s nothing wrong with noting this–and it’s great that there’s another potent option for home tests. However it also requires a lot of selectorial discipline, and probably a selectorial hide of a rhino. That is, there’s a good case–especially since he’s not at the young hopeful stage–for saying that he should come into the reckoning for every home test but that they still shouldn’t even have him in the squad for the subcontinent this winter or the Ashes.
You say his record overseas is terrible, but only two English pace bowlers to have debuted in the last 10 years have a sub-40 away bowling average: Stokes and Wood. Anderson and Broad’s averages outside England are both over 30. And there is an argument to be made that Woakes has rarely had the new ball to bowl with, which might have helped him.
None of which is to say I’d pick him overseas, just that he isn’t necessarily keeping any obvious candidates out of the side of he is selected.
Looks like we are having an extremely lopsided ODI. Floodlight might not even be needed.
I see the world of physical phenomena is reminding Ed Smith that Denly isn’t actually a good idea in the ODI side….
This was probably what was written in the ECB draft response to Holder, who asked for England to reciprocate and tour the hard hit West Indies.
“Thank you West Indies for filling our coffers to the tune of 60 million pounds. Now bugger off, as we have more important things to do than for once acting decent. We believe that our customers have not seen enough ODIs against Australia in the last 13 years, so we’ll finally play some.”
Quote from that loveable rogue A Cook:
“When I was captain, there were times when he could be grumpy, but we’re talking about the single-mindedness that makes him as good as he is. Yes, there were moments that were frustrating, but it was never malicious. As a captain, you would rather have someone who has his own ideas for what is best, rather than a ‘yes’ man.”
I know this has been done to death on here, but I’m still staggered at the double standard of ‘one rule for the others and a separate one for KP’. Could you ever imagine A Cook saying this about KP, even though it would seem a good fit in many ways…..it still rankles with me! (These were his comments on Broad taken from a recent BBC article)
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Also hilarious that it was said by the ultimate yes man in English cricket.
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I hadn’t heard it, but I swear, I thought it WAS KP he was referring to as I read it in your post.
Does anyone know what Cook said about Pietersen in his autobiography? My impression is that there wasn’t anywhere near the bad blood between them that there is between Pietersen and Flower, Strauss and Prior (and also for that matter Swann, Anderson and Broad!)–and that Pietersen rather saw Cook as a stooge in the whole business than a main perpertrator.
Just saw that Hameed got a 50 in the game between Notts and Derbyshire. Hope he is in the right place now, and that he can leave the horror 3 years he had since his Test debut behind..
Ended up with the same score as Samit Patel. Auspicious…