Hey, it’s Test cricket. Remember me?

The unlikely is the heart of sport and the currency by which it sucks in new adherents, how it grabs hold of a child and retains them for life. All those who love Test cricket can remember the match that first got them well and truly hooked on the sport, and in cricket’s case, it really is Tests that do that more than any other format, even now.

Sri Lanka’s extraordinary victory today over South Africa has had social media ablaze, trending across different countries not involved in the series, but reaching those who care greatly, and beyond them to the casual viewer who will see that and wonder what the fuss is all about.

A Test that in this country at least was at the margins of niche interest exploded into the realms of fascination as an unlikely run chase sank towards failure; just another game and another defeat for a nation struggling against almost all opposition. No one told Kusal Perera, who responded with one of those once in a lifetime performances to snatch an utterly extraordinary victory, with the unlikely assistance of Vishwa Fernando at the end in an unbroken last wicket partnership of 78. And for cricket fans all around the world, a relatively low key Test match became required viewing as word went around that something incredible was happening.

The details barely matter, there are plenty of match reports to read through to vicariously experience the whole thing once again. But the sensation of witnessing something amazing in any sporting contest cannot be beaten, while in Test cricket the unique tension as it unfolds is something that can’t be replicated in many other arenas. The long form that so many suppose is the problem is precisely why even those without a dog in the fight feel their heart thumping in their chest and experience the gnawing tension that grows with every ball. The possibility of something epic, the fear that any second it might be snatched away, the drawn, pinched expressions on the faces of players for whom realisation is dawning that defeat and despair may be coming.

And this is why those who are responsible for the game, who denigrate Test cricket rather than embrace it, are loathed and despised by the strange obsessives who continue to proselytise that this form of the game is the one. Whether it be Edgbaston 2005 or Durban 2019; or even Barbados 1999 when Brian Lara finished with the same score as Kusal Perera in another acutely stressful finish, Test cricket can produce sheer magic, a degree of intensity that few sports can match.

If Test cricket is in trouble, it also falls to those of us who love it to tell everyone else why. If the governing bodies won’t do it, then someone else has to. It doesn’t compensate, it doesn’t begin to make up the shortfall, but in a small way, it helps a little.

And yes, this is an exceptional example. But most sports have their routine outcomes, we watch because of the unexpected, because of the amazing. Because hitting Dale Steyn into the stands in a T20 is routine, but doing so in a thrilling Test match with one wicket standing raises the hairs on the back of the neck.

Because it matters. Because it’s a Test match. And because it is utterly bloody wonderful.

There are highlights on Sky at 6pm this evening. If you missed it, do watch if you can.

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Inside Cricket: Annie Chave in Barbados

A guest post this evening. Annie Chave (@anniechave on Twitter) relates her experiences in the Caribbean.

I’m standing on the ground at the Kensington Oval, Barbados. The First Test Match of the West Indies v England series has just finished. England have been nothing short of destroyed by a Windies side that had previously been seen as the underdog. Everywhere there are players, reporters, presenters and cameras. Roland Butcher walks over to me and mentions the fact that it’s his job to pick the Man of the Match. The obvious choice is Jason Holder, but Roland is discussing it with me. How did I get to this point in time, this glitch in reality? I found myself trying to make sense of my position. Just how had I earned the media pass which I was wearing round my neck? I have no obvious background in reporting, I haven’t played cricket at a high level, I don’t have a well-connected family and I’m not a prize winner. But I’m a good honest fan of the game and, over the last year, I’ve devoted my time and my money to campaigning for the fact that someone like me, yes a woman, but also a scorer and a fan of village cricket, can have a useful and usable knowledge of the first-class game. That, along with a few days experience of broadcasting with Guerilla Cricket, was my vantage point before this Test Match. Now, after the Barbados experience, I can offer a glimpse of an ‘insider’ view of the cricketing fraternity.

Barbados is beautiful. It has beaches to die for, impressive buildings, beautiful countryside, but what it has in abundance, its overriding attraction, is an almost insatiable love of cricket. This could not have been more obvious than at the Kensington Oval. To be sure, much of the local support came from people employed at the ground, with English supporters outnumbering Windies by 75% to 25%, but the whole ground buzzed and sang in a way that exposed the old-school stuffiness and new-school corporate nature of English Test Match grounds. I was lucky enough to be working with one of the West Indian legends of the commentary box, Joseph ‘Reds’ Perreira, who has been commentating on West Indian Tests since 1971. As we arrived at the ground at 8.30 a.m. on the first day, I helped him to the very smart ‘new-look Media Centre’ (paid for by the Windies World Cup win). We threaded our way among the stalls people were setting up for the day, with fresh fruit and various foodstuffs in abundance. It was a slow passage as everyone wanted a piece of Reds. So many selfies and hugs. It was becoming clear quite what an icon this man is. The Media Centre was alive with action. Every radio and TV station has its own box, lined up like cars on a seven-lane motorway, all with windshields facing the same way. Reds and I were working for the local radio station, Line and Length (Starcom Network), run by the immensely popular Barry Wilkinson. It was inside the reality bubble of the Starcom box that David Brooks, myself and Reds introduced the day’s play. Listening to Reds talk it was obvious why he has such legendary status in the Caribbean. He has a wonderful lilting voice and his style is a unique mixture of Tony Cozier and John Arlott. (Both of whom he worked with on numerous occasions).

Reds wasn’t the only icon, though. Donna Symmonds, the first woman to commentate on Test Match Special but who last commentated twelve years ago, was kicking off the with her wonderfully precise ball-by-ball description of play. We also had the quite brilliant Roland Butcher, of Middlesex and (3 Tests) England. A more relaxed and affable star you’re unlikely to find. As the day progressed I found myself in the company of more and more stars of the game. I was beginning to feel a bit like Miles Jupp, the ‘fibber in the heat’ who inveigled his way into the press box during England’s 2006 tour of India. Jonathan Agnew popped in to talk to Donna, Vic Marks took up the commentary, as did Tino Best, in his barely fitting tight shirt. ‘No cricket for me’, he told me, ‘just a beach body now’. Vic and Tino had very different styles, but both were hugely entertaining in their analysis. Johnny Barran, who works for Radio 5 on their county cricket coverage, was brilliantly professional and helpful. For me, though, the first morning was spent in persuading a very chatty Colin Croft to come on to our lunchtime programme and present Reds with a Line and Length lifetime achievement award. This award was the brainchild of David Brooks, who holds Reds in great esteem. Colin and Reds reminisced over the airwaves about the heyday of Windies cricket, and our lunchtime show, like the game, was off to a flyer.

It was on my very first day, media pass on show, that I made my way to the President’s box. In the room full of legends of the game, I’d arranged to meet a West Indian friend who very kindly introduced me to none other than Sir Garfield Sobers. How do you greet a cricketing knight? Bow, curtsey, genuflect? I seized the initiative, grabbed his hand, shook it and said what an immense honour it was to meet such an amazing player of the game. Like the true gentleman that he is, he turned the conversation onto me. Sir Garfield said that he had visited the UK every year for the last forty years, and we chatted about the relative beauty of Devon. It must have been me who turned our conversation to the six sixes at Swansea. It was pure luck, he said, that the match was filmed at all due to another match being cancelled. He was greatly enjoying Shimron Hetmyer’s innings, he said, as he went off to watch its continuation, and I wandered back to my box in a daze, encased in a private dialogue, replaying a conversation that will stay with me for life, along with a photograph of the two of us in conversation.

On the second day England were all out for 77 in their first innings, leaving the Windies very much in the driving seat. The temperature in our Caribbean box started rising; a resurgent Windies were creating heat all across the Media Centre. I took a walk around the ground, and, with my accreditation on display, I was able to interview a selection of both sets of fans. There was a general sense of disbelief in England’s poor batting display, but what was also evident across the whole ground, was a sense that it was great to see the Windies asking questions and proving their critics wrong. The English supporters were partying, but the Windies supporters were partying better and louder.

I headed back to the Media Centre, where the reporters line up at their desks. On the floor below them, coffee and cakes are available, and a few reporters can generally be found, taking refuge in conversation from the demands of the job. Two of my favourites, George Dobell and the enigmatic Jonathan Liew, were there, interacting over a biscuit after meeting their various deadlines. We discussed the condition of County Cricket, and I was delighted to discover that they share my dismay at the ‘looming doom’ of the 100. It would be hard to find two people with more knowledge and ability to predict and dissect the horror ahead. Over coffee and in the lift, I had friendly and relaxed conversations with Steve Harmison, Nasser Hussain, David Lloyd and Michael Atherton – faces and voices we fans are all so familiar with. What surprised me more than anything was how friendly and relaxed everyone was. No prima donnas or dismissive comments. It was jokes and banter against a background of serious engagement with cricket. I was one of the lads. And that brings me on to a point that I find staggering. Apart from Donna Symmonds, I didn’t see any other woman in the Media Centre actually working in the media. I know that’s not always the case, but it was that way in Barbados. This is something that is part of the old-school cricket tradition, and it will change. I feel as if I’ve been lucky enough to be part of that growth, and that makes me feel immensely proud.

Meanwhile, the match progressed at two paces: a massive 18 wickets on day two, followed by a day without a single one. I’ll never forget the pure joy on Holder’s face as he pumped the air when he reached his 200. For day three, we had landed a lunchtime show with Jonathan Agnew. Agnew is a commentator more famous than most of the players these days, and so it was a nervous me that went to disturb him and Test Match Special Producer, Adam Mountford, in The TMS box to discuss timings and features. They were both delightful, and the interview with Aggers, in which we turned the tables on the ultimate interviewer, was entertaining and honest. As I listened to Aggers I felt that my radio at home had somehow provided an out of body experience. It wasn’t that I was starstruck. I was over all that. It was just that his voice had been part of my cricket listening for so long that I couldn’t quite believe that my voice was sharing a space with it.

The following day we were poised. England had begun their second innings positively after the Windies had declared 627 ahead after the fairy-tale partnership between their giant captain Jason Holder and their canny keeper, the elfin Shane Dowrich. It had been a full-on few days of exceptionally exciting cricket, and I’d had to learn several of the ins and outs of radio production in a hurry. It wasn’t surprising, then, that, when Steve Harmison told me that he was hoping for an early finish, I agreed whole-heartedly. My mind had been whirring and I wanted to give it a rest with a day away from the ground that had become my home for the last four days. I didn’t really expect England to fail quite so emphatically again in their second innings. At lunch on the fourth day, we interviewed the highly entertaining Darren Gough. It felt right somehow that Gough was here and talking about his experience with the greats of Windies cricket against the backdrop of such a powerful ‘new Windies’ performance. England lost their way in the second innings, and the match juddered to a halt a day early. England annihilated; Windies resplendent; Steve Harmison and me chuffed to bits.

It was, in fact, after the end of the game that I had my Miles Jupp experience. I’d followed the reporters onto the pitch. There were groups of people dotted around the outfield. Sky had set up their cameras and were interviewing Roston Chase, the improbable eight-wicket hero, and Jason Holder, the benignly triumphant skipper. There was a group of people setting up the presentation area, various members of either side were being interviewed by radio stations and a party of VIPs paraded on with the Barbadian Prime Minister. They were followed by about a dozen reporters, and the dozen reporters were followed by me. I was one of only two women in this particular crowd. The other was Mia Mottley, the first woman to hold the office of Prime Minister of Barbados. Under the circumstances, I had to brazen it out. When Trevor Bayliss was brought out to face the newspaper reporters, I joined in the huddle. Around me, newsmen recorded their questions and his answers on their phones. I was fascinated to watch the English press secretary count the time down and take control of the session. As soon as Bayliss, in his usual clipped manner, had finished, the press secretary made a beeline for the pavilion. The reporters, with me behind them, followed at a pace. Unlike the reporters, I had no idea where I was going, but I was bloody well going there. I found myself in a small room with raked seating for the reporters, so I sat at the back, waiting for someone to come over and tell me to leave. Holder and Chase were brought out to face the press. They were magnanimous about England in their answers and modest about their own performances. Joe Root looked more shell-shocked, but he held his own and managed to put across his main point, that although their performance was disappointing he felt England were good at bouncing back. I was intrigued to be present in the room for the whole performance, and it rounded off my experience at the ground perfectly. I’d witnessed the whole ‘inside cricket event’, right from the very start, with the setting up, the ball-by-ball coverage of the incredible match right through to the analysis and summing up.

As I left the ground there was a sense of jubilation everywhere: an afterglow from the stands, chatter around the food stalls, partying in the rum bars, and the chaos of the crowds and taxis. This had been an overpowering win. It was a piece of history, and I had been there to witness it. But ‘witness’ is too passive, too ‘outside’ a word to do justice to my experience. For this Test Match, I was not just a witness. I was ‘in cricket’.

West Indies vs England: 3rd Test, Day One

A day of cricket that most of all resembled the outbreak of a Test match occurred in St Lucia today. It involved England grafting having been put into bat, and finishing the day in a half reasonable position.

It could certainly be argued that the hosts, having won the series, had lost a little intensity, for they didn’t bowl anything like as well as they had in either of the first two Tests, while the absence of the suspended captain may also have had an impact. Whatever it was, the direction and accuracy was a notch down on where it has been up to now, particularly as the day wore on and the frustration began to rise.

It was still good enough to account for the England top order, the perennial problems England have in losing early wickets much to the fore. The selection of Keaton Jennings was bizarre in the first place, and he should have been given out once and was also dropped before eventually being put out of his misery by Holder’s replacement Keemo Paul.

It is hard not to feel anything other than sympathy for Jennings’ predicament. He’s hopelessly out of form, has significant technical flaws in his game, and was on a hiding to nothing being called into this one. It is not in any way surprising he failed, his head cannot be in a good cricketing place right now. Quite what those responsible expected to have dramatically changed is unknown, for this was trying the same thing again and expecting a different result. That’s known as the definition of something or other.

Rory Burns managed to play around a straight one, as did Joe Denly, while an out of sorts Root had an ugly old waft outside off stump. There is a lot of talk about his form, but it is only this winter that he was scoring centuries and being praised for showing signs of overcoming his conversion “problem”. Root is a fine player, and of all of the problems the England batting line up might have, he is the least of them, whatever the low return from this tour might be, and however out of touch he might be at present. He is the one genuinely class batsman in the team.

After that it was the Buttler and Stokes show. Both had a little luck, certainly, but Stokes probably has the purest technique of any of the England players, and has shown before he has the mental aptitude for a rearguard action. He was hardly slow of course, but he wasn’t over-aggressive, and he looked the most comfortable at the crease of any England batsman this series.

His dismissal off a no ball, leaving the field of play, left all but a remarkably smug few non-plussed, the law having changed to allow a batsman to be recalled at any point up to the next delivery to be bowled. Was I aware? Nope. First time I’ve seen that.

Although there was a little rain before lunch, the over rate was once again abysmal, in fact marginally worse than at Antigua. It may be that another West Indies captain is going to be on the sidelines for the start of the ODI series. If nothing else, it quite pointedly thumbed a nose at the ICC, but if there was sympathy in some quarters for Jason Holder, there’s likely to be far less for Brathwaite this time around given a second team offence.

By the end of play the West Indies were looking a little weary, and a four wicket return having put England into bat represents far less than they would ever have hoped or anticipated. This was without doubt England’s best day of the series. Far too late, but a decent one in the end even so.

Even when losing early wickets, England had shown a much greater level of discipline in their approach, and perhaps something can be taken from that for the Ashes, though given how far away that is, the chances are a belated learned lesson here will have no effect. But what it did do was lay at least some kind of platform for the middle order, and that was a first this series.

For tomorrow, this could still go two ways. The pitch is certainly more even than at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, and there is no reason why 300 shouldn’t be considered par. England still have a way to go to get to that, and with their propensity for spectacular collapses, it shouldn’t be assumed this is certain to be reached.

Nevertheless, at long last England have been competitive. In itself, that represents a minor victory. As long as it is considered that and no more, they can be relatively content with their efforts.

But tomorrow? Well tomorrow is another day.

West Indies vs England: 3rd Test, Day One Live

It probably won’t be a full live blog the way the last Test was, but we’ll open this one to have a place for discussion given how there’s a lot of content on the site at present.

We’ll all chime in at different points during the day, but over by over it isn’t.

Comments below of course!

England have lost the toss and will bat first. What could possibly go wrong?

This doesn’t look a particularly quick pitch at all.

As John Etheridge states…

It’s almost like people expected that from Jennings…

All in all a pretty decent session from England. Jennings went in familiar fashion, but they’ve been a fair bit more restrained in their play, and left better than in either of the first two Tests. Whether they can go on from here, well that’s a different question.

We sit here, patiently awaiting the collapse.

Buttler and Stokes have done rather well here.

West Indies vs England: 3rd Test Preview

It’s been a busy old week for the site, and Sean’s piece about the ECB, the Test team and the county set up has attracted lots of deserved attention.  For those yet to read it, it can be found here .

For England, there is the small matter of a Test match in St Lucia to deal with.  Having been comprehensively walloped in the first two Tests, England will go to St Lucia knowing it is likely to be the quickest pitch of the series, as the hosts finally appear to have realised that playing to their strengths reaps dividends, especially against teams who have shown a marked dislike for pace and bounce.  Whether it is as uneven as the Antigua surface is to some extent beside the point, England have struggled badly on perfectly flat quick, bouncy pitches in recent times, and the insistence of the ECB on producing slow, low tracks at home, allied with the pushing to the margins of the red ball county game mean it is hardly surprising that England batsmen react as if stung by a wasp when they come across bounce and pace.  Still, that’s no kind of excuse, given it’s entirely of their own doing in the first place, and the lack of preparation – or more specifically the apparent preparation and selection for the kinds of pitches seen in years past are a failure of planning that hasn’t attracted as much attention as it should have.  England’s first Test selection was utterly wrong, and how they got it that wrong should receive more scrutiny, beyond simply blaming captain and coach.

This time around, they at least don’t have to deal with trying to bowl to Jason Holder for a day at a time, banned as he is from the match for a slow over rate.  There has been much sympathy for him, but in principle the decision is fair enough – it is the lack of consistency that is the problem.  However, it needs to be said that much noise concerning slow over rates comes from the likes of us, while anecdotally, it can’t be said that it is a pressing concern for most, which perhaps puts us as outliers.

To replace him, the West Indies have called up an all rounder in Keemo Paul as a direct replacement, and another fast bowler in Oshane Thomas.  Which they go with will say a lot about how fragile they believe England to be after their previous drubbings.

For England, unless injury forces a change from Stokes and Foakes, if they do change anything it is most likely to be to bring in Mark Wood, who whatever his shortcomings in his career to date, and injury has plagued him, is certainly the only member of the squad who might have the pace to match the West Indians.  It really is like being back in 1985 – all we need is for someone to talk about meeting fire with fire.  If this is what England go with, the player at most risk is Sam Curran, keeping up the fine tradition of England replacing a bowler when the batsmen fail.  Wood himself directly commented on that, in a delightfully off message observation that will not have endeared him to the England hierarchy.

“I think I’ve got a chance. It’s very harsh to leave a bowler out when it’s the batting that’s failed but that always seems to be the case, doesn’t it?”

Optimism is in short supply, but it is always possible that England will have learned some lessons from the series to date.  Perhaps they’ll bat more responsibly, and not assume they are in a one day international.  Perhaps they’ll consider occupation of the crease to be a valid aim.  Perhaps they’ll bowl to do more than try and invite the kinds of reckless shots that England batsmen make.  But the evidence to date suggests it unlikely.  Still, that’s the beauty of sport.

The absence of Holder would make any England win slightly hollow, and it could be argued that for England to really look properly at what has happened on this tour and why they need to be resoundingly beaten so no one can try and look for the positives.  Yet the ECB in recent years seem to care not a jot for reverses (away Ashes whitewashes are brushed off as being of little consequence, especially when they can’t blame the same person again) , content to win mostly at home and occasionally away if playing an understrength opponent.  This tour will be forgotten quickly when the World Cup comes around, though that does highlight the importance of England winning it to remotely justify the sidelining of the Test team, and the selection of a near on one day batting line up in the Test arena.  2019 does have the potential for the ECB to claim all is well and pat themselves on the back for their brilliance, but there will undoubtedly now be a few nervous glances over a shoulder or two at Lord’s, and so there should be.  It’s been a high stakes gamble, one which requires everything for the remainder of this year to go right .  The problem is that their concern is on the basis of how it reflects on their strategy, not a care about the game of cricket as a reason in itself.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone.  It still isn’t that England are an awful team – faced with friendly conditions they are a match for anyone.  But they have been found out away from home, and their limited approach does not serve them well in alien surrounds.  Whoever would have predicted that?

 

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test Review – Hubris

If the first Test was one sided, England were quick to say that such underperformance wouldn’t be repeated in Antigua, and they would be a side transformed. Perhaps it was the necessary self-confidence any team ought to have in itself, their ability to match and exceed the opponent. But perhaps instead it spoke of a wider hubris about where they sit in the cricket hierarchy, an inability to accept that they were being outplayed by a team who, in these conditions at least, were simply better than them.

Certainly England didn’t appear to have learned anything, nor did they change their approach with the bat. The same carefree certainty that they could dominate from the off, the same puzzled confusion that it didn’t just fail to work, but instead actually got worse, as scrambled minds struggled to deal with what was happening to them. If one thing has marked England out over recent years, it is an inability to think on their feet and respond to changing circumstances and a different challenge in front of them. Their difficulties faced with pace have become clear, their technical limitations dealing with a quick pitch that bounces even more so.

To a considerable extent it shouldn’t be surprising. The first class game is confined to the margins of the season with tracks that are either green or tired, the home Tests are played all too often on turgid surfaces where the ball rarely gets above knee level without additional effort, while the bowlers focus on getting swing rather than seam, and high pace is neutralised. The lack of genuine quick bowlers in the domestic game isn’t a coincidence, it is a product of the system and the conditions. It always, without exception, is that way. And they have become adept at playing in the conditions created at home for them, while appearing lost when faced with something different.

The misreading of the first Test selection smacked of a structure that expected the pitches in the Caribbean to be as they had been on previous tours – a failure of intelligence gathering if nothing else, as well as one of judgement. The second Test put that right to an extent, but the West Indies smelled blood by that point. No longer was it a case of sneaking a 1-0 lead and preparing dead pitches to hold on to it. This team had England on toast, and were going to demonstrate it again. From here, 3-0 looks far more likely than 2-1.

The selection of Keaton Jennings alone indicated England’s expectations, a player who has had modest success on slow surfaces, and looks technically short on anything else. That was changed here for Joe Denly, but expecting him to put right the problems in the England batting order was always optimistic to say the least.

The quartet of West Indies bowlers tore into England from the start, and it was abundantly obvious that England couldn’t cope with it. Certainly the pitch wasn’t the best, but it’s not hard to imagine previous generations of England batting line ups handling that rather better, and even the much maligned late 1990s version would have attempted to graft rather than hit their way out of trouble.

The folly of the approach was shown by how the West Indies batted in reply. Stuart Broad is one of the more thoughtful observers on the game in the England ranks, but while he was correct that England didn’t have a great deal of luck, there was unquestionably a difference in the chosen line of attack and how they were trying to get the batsmen out. The home team targeted the stumps, England bowled in the channel outside, passing the bat repeatedly for sure, but also limiting the kinds of dismissals possible.

Broad, by far the most impressive of the England bowlers, slightly gave the game away after day two, suggesting that the batsmen had indicated fuller deliveries were easier to score off, but that he felt they should have pushed it up further anyway. Once again, it’s about run prevention rather than wicket-taking as the central mindset, and while Broad is often guilty of that too, with him at least it feels that his mentality is to want to bowl people out. The spell on the second day had all the feeling of being on the cusp of one of those irrestible ones, and that the West Indies survived it is deeply to their credit. That’s not to say for a second that bowlers with 1,000 Test wickets between them don’t know what they’re doing, but there is a default to fall back on, and England do it repeatedly, and when it doesn’t work, it’s striking.

Jonny Bairstow had explained his first innings thrash by saying he never felt in on the pitch. Understandable perhaps given it was the first, early sighter. It was far less so second time around after Darren Bravo had provided such an object lesson in crease occupation. But here again, England were guilty of millionaire shots – expansive drives to straight, good length balls, flailing furiously at anything outside off stump.

Of the top order only Root could be said to have been got out, making him doubly unlucky after the unplayable one he got in the first innings. The others were all guilty of playing T20 shots in a Test match, or leaving a straight one – another indication of mental struggle.

England were certainly beaten by the better team, and there is no disgrace in that. There is in the manner of doing so. Hidebound, narrow minded and incapable of either considering or applying a different method. If they refuse to do so, that is poor. If they are incapable of doing so, that is worse. For it speaks to the very structure of the game the ECB have administered, with few obvious alternatives out there. Cause and effect. Always cause and effect.

As for the West Indies, if this is to prove the start of some kind of revival, however modest, that is cause for celebration. Cricket has too few teams to be casual about losing any more (ICC take note), and the manner of their victory and their style of play spoke to a deep pride in who they are and how they play. The clear burning anger at the perceived lack of respect given to them suggests as much. They have been a joy to behold, and if nothing else, the genuine and slightly bewildered delight of the locals is heart warming.

England have it all, money, a system that could be honed to produce the best that is possible. A deliberate strategy of sidelining that in pursuit of filthy lucre brings us to where we are now. It isn’t that England are a terrible team, but they are a one dimensional one, and one incapable of adapting. The express strategy of focusing on the one day forms of cricket is bearing fruit there, but at the expense of Tests. And when Anderson and Broad call it a day, the naked exposure is going to be even more obvious.

Results like this aren’t catastrophic in themselves, but they are the canary in the mine. The ECB approach has been to euthanise the canary rather than investigate the gas. And that’s why things won’t improve. Get used to it.

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test, Day Three Live Blog

Preamble: After being chivvied by Trevor in the comments for being late on parade, I’ve now had coffee and arrived at my spot in the ground. Square of the wicket in the Mound area by the way, though wandering around is permitted which is wonderful.

Stuart Broad said England need a batting hero today, and he’s probably right about that, but first up is the small matter of taking the last four wickets before the already significant deficit becomes a chasm. The possibility that this is the final day of the Test does loom large, for if England don’t bat extremely well later, this Test and this series is done.

For later on, these are the kinds of decisions that are more important though:

The crowd appears to have thinned again today, albeit hopefully more locals will be in given its a weekend and their team is (to be blunt) winning.

0910: Weather report, the skies are mostly clear, with a few fluffy clouds. No rain this morning at all so far.

0920: Desperate news from the West Indies camp that Alzarri Joseph’s mother passed away this morning. Nothing more to be said, dreadful.

0922: I think what I like about this ground, and presumably the others in the region, is that it’s a no shits given kind of venue. Do whatever you like, no one is bothered what you are doing or where. It’s so refreshing.

0930: Wise words from Chris Tremlett

0936: England still playing football in the warm up.

It amazes me so much gets written about this. It’s a relaxing way to get loose, and injuries can happen whatever they do. And they do as well. Not a thing wrong with it, when exercising, muscles can ping, ankles can be turned. Scrapping football won’t change that.

0949: view from the other side of the ground. Nothing to do with going to get another coffee.

0958: Out come the teams:

PS, the decent photographer on these pages is Dmitri. Me? I take as many as possible on the phone and pick the one that’s vaguely acceptable. My total lack of interest puzzles him.

1050: That nasty blow for Bravo is a sign of things to come for England. As was the Holder wicket. As the lead stretches, and with England needing to score a minimum of 250 to have any kind of realistic chance, this Test looks to be going only one way.

1057: Alzarri Joseph got a wonderful reception from the crowd as he walked out. But the PA isn’t very clear here, so most around me didn’t know and were asking why people were standing and applauding.

1119: It’s probably gone as well as it could have for England this morning. The real business of seeing how England bat is to come.

1134: That is a big lead on this.

1204: Being conditioned to expect the worst is a terrible thing. But getting to lunch without losing a wicket is mildly surprising all in all. Seeing England duck and weave though is a fantastic reminder of how Test cricket was at times in the past, before pitches became placid, slow and uniform, existing only to break the hearts of fast bowlers. So it’s a bit uneven. So what?

1244: I actually hate it when the press publish photos of their lunches that are provided for them, but since I queued and paid for this, I’ll mention the goat curry was excellent.

1258: Fancy an opener playing a risky pull shot in a crisis situation. Would never have happened a few years ago.

1322: It looked a terrible shot live. It looked worse on replay from Burns. A late cut (of sorts) straight to the slips is, well, brave.

1342: Still 52 overs scheduled today. So England should be significantly ahead assuming they’re still in by the close. One way or another, we’ll be a fair way to knowing the outcome.

1348: that’s another ridiculously ambitious shot. Bairstow said in the first innings that he didn’t feel ever in, hence attacking everything. Seems the second innings was to be the same.

1410: Don’t worry, they’ll learn from this. It’s just an aberration, right?

The atmosphere in the ground is great now though, the locals are climbing into this England team with relish and gusto. Who can blame them?

1419: this is shambolic. Again.

1420: Alzarri Joseph being the catalyst for it though, that’s pretty special.

1425: Just a brilliant atmosphere. Though just heard the England fans next to me say “bollocks to going to South Africa to watch this shit”.

Oh England are winning the rugby at least.

1432: Meet Michael, who has provided plenty of entertainment to the crowd all around the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. He’s currently offering all the sad England fans a free flight home tonight and not to cry too much.

1441: Dominant session from the West Indies. And every chance they’ll wrap up the series after tea.

1450: My legs are burning. I await your sympathy.

1521: England are playing a positive, exciting brand of cricket, remember. Are you not entertained?

1530: Six down, four of them bowled. This aiming at the stumps lark is clearly overrated.

1543: Just to emphasise that no one cares what you do in this ground, there’s an enormous reefer being passed around just to my left. Lord’s next.

1556: Ironic cheers all round as England make the West Indies bat again. What a hiding this is.

1559: Seven wickets this innings have been bowled or lbw. England did that once when they bowled.

1610: “The England teams are very clear that part of their responsibility in playing this bold and brave cricket – this commitment to playing an exciting formula of cricket every time they go on the park – is linked to this.” – Tom Harrison.

That’s alright then.

1614: So. Beach tomorrow then.

1628: Just trying to get a few different photos of the finish, I’ll then pop them up with a few words. It’s not like anyone is on tenterhooks about the outcome!

1633: West Indies sneak it, in the end.

1641: On my way out of the ground now. Some photos and some video of the winning runs…edit: why the hell this is upside down is beyond me.

And a last farewell to the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium:

Two Tests played, two thumping victories for the home team. And my goodness did they deserve it. They outbatted and outbowled England by a distance, pretty much from start to finish. England have made a point when they lose matches of saying they haven’t executed their skills or some such guff. It’s nonsense, they’ve just been outplayed by a better team in these conditions.

The inability of the England team to graft and show fight is quite striking. Rabbits in the headlights when faced with the revolutionary tactic of a team bowling straight at them. It was a pleasure to witness the West Indies play, and to see the amazed pleasure of the locals who have watched their team struggle for too many years. And if a sporting success can bring a small crumb of comfort to a young man in distress, so be that too.

But some of the English media appear to be in disbelief that such a thing could happen, so convinced by the ECB mantra that all is going swimmingly that rational analysis has gone by the wayside. England are brittle they have been for some years. Doesn’t mean they can’t win, doesn’t mean they won’t win. But faced with challenging circumstances, they wilt more often than not and appear to struggle to cope with needing to change their method. That a player as free scoring as Darren Bravo gave them a lesson in Test match batting ought to ring alarm bells. But alas of course, it will not.

Have a good rest of the evening folks, been a pleasure to share the Test with you. TLG.

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test, Day Two Live Blog

Preamble: The West Indies have probably won all bar two sessions in this series so far, and while the story and expectation of the series has been that of the plucky underdogs taking a surprise lead, if they win the first two sessions today, that needs to change to recognising the dominant team. For yesterday was another grim one for England and another fine one for the hosts, and finished with Campbell and Brathwaite providing an object lesson to their English counterparts in how to leave the ball alone.

England failing to make the batsmen play is hardly new, and perhaps judging opposition standards by their own is almost understandable. But today they’re going to have to tighten up considerably to make any inroads, and the new ball is now not so new at all.

Still, all things are possible on a surface that has looked lively, acaseEngland must be confident that if they bowl well, they can get back into what would then become a rather short game. But the West Indies bowlers are considerably quicker than England’s – that looked like it made a difference in Barbados, and may well make the difference here. In which case, from a cricketing perspective, this is a very, very good thing indeed. Pace should be rewarded, not nullified.

In advance of the series, my personal fear was that Antigua would be a tourist board pitch. This is not the case at all. And that’s because the West Indies smell blood.

As ever, hit refresh for updates.

0805: Off to the ground!

0829: The skies are a bit clearer than yesterday at this time, much less overcast. Not what England wanted to see.

0923: Funny how you feel at home so quickly in a ground. Day 2, know where everything is. Also striking how much quieter it was on the way, how much less traffic there was.

Day three tickets bought too.

First photo of the day is England warming up. I’m sure they have many cunning plans.

0955: Definitely quieter today than yesterday, markedly so. There were a decent number of people in on the cruise ships yesterday, that’s probably the difference.

0957: Teams out and here we go.

1013: Broad seems to be bowling with a bit more oomph this morning. Can TV viewers confirm?

1050: fair to say Broad hasn’t had a huge amount of luck this morning. Oh look, a visitor:

1100: Broad is stalking around the outfield like a man wanting to murder the world. Those overthrows just about topped it off.

1109: England have bowled pretty well this morning, especially Broad, but dropping catches doesn’t exactly help. Stokes’ wicket was the first England had taken in 100 overs.

1140: Looks suspiciously like England may have shot their bolt here. Runs are now starting to flow and the sense of threat has disappeared. And with a lead rapidly shrinking the time to say they are in deep trouble is approaching.

1156: elsewhere, how’s this for a catch from Jason Roy:

1205: and that’s lunch. England bowled well early on, and really should have taken a few more wickets. But they didn’t, and the last hour has been pretty untroubled from a West Indies perspective. The run rate isn’t too high, and the second new ball is 30 overs away, meaning if England can take two or three this afternoon then the deficit might not be too big. But there’s the rub, it’s already turning to damage limitation, and there’s little evidence the West Indies will be as accommodating as England’s batsmen.

1254: wait, a wicket? OMG etc.

1313: The trouble is, there’s not a huge amount to say. Broad has looked head and shoulders above everyone else today, but the West Indies are just two down, and nearing parity. They’ve batted beautifully, without risk and maintaining their wickets. That England are trying hard is without doubt, but once again expecting the bowlers to bale the team out when they’ve been skittled again is not reasonable.

1325: look I don’t want to boast or anything, oh sod that, I trust you all appreciate my brilliance?

1417: Hiatus for lunch, sorry. West Indies in the lead, and England have the new ball in the next 7 overs. 50 as a deficit is manageable I suppose, and would represent a fine bowling performance. But then it needs the batsmen to go well.

1446: and that’s tea. And a fine over before the break from Nick Denly…

New ball now due.

The Sir Andy Roberts stand looking rather good today.

1529: I’ve always felt a high dropped catch ratio is more a symptom than a cause.

1532: There’s a certain irony that after not bowling at the stumps, an lbw decision is overturned because it wasn’t hitting the stumps.

1543: Mark the time – the Barmy Army have started.

1552: As the sixth wicket goes down, this is all set up for England to have to bat the last 10 overs of the day. Oh dear.

1611: maybe not, given they’ve taken no more since. England really haven’t bowled too badly, albeit the age old complaint about bowling dry rather than making the opposition play still applies – especially on a surface where bounce is variable. But there’s still nothing so wrong with it that isn’t exaggerated by being bowled out cheaply again. Dropped catches just make it worse.

1633: It’s meandering again really. Not that the West Indies will remotely care, as they continue to build a lead that’s now more than useful. But England don’t especially look like wrapping this up any time soon.

On the plus side, the crowd has been doing a fine job of entertaining itself, largely through the locals taking the piss out of the England team, which is fair enough too.

1642: I would consider lying back, putting the hat over my face and having a kip, were it not that it is nailed on the best way to end up on Sky Sports and be faced with relentless abuse forever and a day.

1655: The West Indies have really shown England how to bat here. Bravo is 31 not out off 144 balls. It’s a bit of a stretch to imagine any of the England players managing that. Stokes perhaps but not many others. It’s almost as though application and patience is important in Test cricket, especially on difficult pitches.

1721: Last over of the day

Stumps: West Indies in control, and worse, looking entirely comfortable in doing so. It’s always possible England will come out skittle the remaining wickets in short order, but on a pitch the West Indies attack have looked far better than England (Broad perhaps excepted), it’s already a sizeable lead, if not a decisive one. England will have to bat exceptionally to even set a decent target, and while they certainly can do, the evidence thus far suggests it’s unlikely.

As for the hosts, they gave an object lesson in how to bat on a difficult surface, playing close to the body and not committing to extravagant shots. Sure, they had a degree of good fortune as well, but they rather earned that good fortune through their application. It has been deeply impressive to watch.

To put it another way, the West Indies are completely outplaying England in every department, and for all the protestations about how England’s displays have been aberrations, it looks more and more a difference in ability between the sides in these conditions.

And with that, I bid you good evening and will see you tomorrow. TLG.

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test, Day One Blog

As most of you know, I’m at the Test this week, so will do a live blog for at least today and then see how it goes. Much depends on the quality of the mobile signal and if I can steal a WiFi password if it’s poor. Oh and it’s not the BBC. You’ll need to hit refresh.

First up, the weather this morning. On my side of the island at least it’s cloudy and showery but nothing to worry about. Everyone in this hotel is going to the cricket, so breakfast is done and heading over to the ground now.

Joe Denly is due to make his debut today, and here I have to confess I have a real problem with him playing. It’s not that he’s done a thing wrong, it’s not that I don’t like him as a player. It’s that I remember playing against his Dad Nick and seeing Joe playing cricket on the boundary as a kid. Dear God.

0821: Pissing down at present.

0926: Finally got into the ground. I knew it was a bit isolated, but it really is in the middle of nowhere. It’s like holding a Test match in the middle of Dartmoor or something. You’ll never complain about the Rosebowl again. The contrast with the ARG – basically at the end of the High Street in St John’s is stark.

Still, it’s an attractive ground alright, it’s just that it robs any chance of casual local spectators and that’s a real shame.

The weather has improved somewhat though.

0930: second bit of good news. By getting the cheapest tickets around, we appear to be by all the bars. Result!

0938: oh England are batting. Right you are. On the plus side, this could be exciting. Brief, but exciting. Nah, my bet is they’ll do ok this time around.

0954: Delighted to announce that some Brits stood for the national anthem and the rest resolutely stayed seated. Fantastically, contrarily British. I’ll leave you to guess which was me.

1010: Unsurprising, I know, but the crowd is almost entirely English. It’s a work day of course, and anecdotally quite a few Antiguans say they’re planning on coming in the afternoon. Hopefully they do.

Panoramic view of the ground:

1027: Be nice if they would actually show the review for those of us at the ground.

1049: This is going well. Again.

1102: Was told to post at drinks, so I will.

1112: This chap is providing plenty of entertainment taking the piss out of the England team. How good his local tours are, I’ve no idea – but I do admire clever marketing.

1121: Aside from that one going through the top and exploding off a length (best of luck out there, batsmen), the most entertaining thing so far is meeting an American chap called Dan. He’s here on his honeymoon having fallen in love with cricket. He told his new wife there was a Test match on this morning. Apparently she’s ok now she’s had some beer and rum.

1140: Dan’s new wife must think these things called wickets happen every few minutes.

1156: Ben Stokes has the best technique of any England batsman. Discuss.

1203: Lunch the lobster smells amazing.

1215: The lunchtime PA blasting out Earth, Wind and Fire is a lot more fun than Lords. And it’s not even September.

1255: No luck on the Dan front yet by the way. Stokes and Moeen at the crease could be fun. And saying that, you just know what’s going to happen next…

1304: Told ya.

1344: Drinks, and a pretty low key last 40 minutes or so. Probably not such a bad thing for England, but that was very nearly like Test cricket. Remember that?

1423: Pretty decent recovery stand between Foakes and (especially) Moeen. Hard to know what a decent total here is, though England are some way short at present of what you’d think was.

1427: In any potential list of things unlikely to garner too much sympathy, having to move in order to get out of the sun and into the shade is probably fairly high. But it is extremely hot, and one rather nice thing about this ground is a complete absence of anyone greatly caring where you wander to.

Which means I can give a nice new view of the ground:

1439: Just for Trevor

1441: And that’s tea. Something of a recovery, though given there are 39 over yet to be bowled in the final session, we’re going to be very, very short.

Moeen though. Enigmatic doesn’t begin to cover it with him, he fails repeatedly, but when he’s good there are very few better players to watch.

1520: not sure if that stopped on him or if it was just a poor shot. Either way, the end is probably nigh. So here’s some video, which won’t turn up the right way. Sigh.

1539: Is it bad to be really, really looking forward to watching Stuart Broad bat on this?

1553: this could be a very interesting last couple of hours or so, just to see if England get anything out of the pitch or not. If not, this could get very painful.

1623: Concerning the above, there are definite twinges.

1643: This has not been the most threatening of opening spells from these two. And it’s mostly being played on the back foot.

1703: Innocuous stuff really.

1741: The West Indies batted really well in that final session, and while England might claim that they didn’t have much luck, nor did they really create much in the way of chances. Unless they have a great morning tomorrow they’ll again be in serious trouble. But that is for then.

From a spectator perspective, the isolation of the ground is a problem, but the experience when there is simply delightful. No one particularly cares where you wander, meaning the ground is there to explore and get different perspectives. The food stalls are individual, cheap and put the horrific money pits at English grounds to shame.

It’s now back to the hotel, relax, have dinner and do it all again in the morning. See you then.

West Indies vs England: 2nd Test Preview

Playing catchup in a series, especially a short one, does tend to rather focus minds somewhat, and while it is not in the make up of anyone even remotely associated with the ECB to admit to an error, the 12 announced for tomorrow’s match at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium (let’s be honest, we all miss the Antigua Recreation Ground) by England are as much a tacit recognition of a first Test balls up as is ever likely to be the case. Broad is back in and seems certain to play, Jennings is out in favour of Joe Denly as the revolving door of England openers shows no sign of slowing down. More notable is the dropping of Adil Rashid, a player who might not be the Shane Warne standard that he appears he has to be in order to get any credit, but isn’t the clueless ingenue he gets all to often painted as either. More strikingly with him is the clear lack of any clue as to how to use him, either from the captain or the coaching team. If he’s not going to bowl more than a handful of overs, there’s little point playing him.

As ever, there are cases to be made both for and against any individual instance, but the inability of English sport across the board to be able to handle flair and individuality, whether on or off the field is a constant. It isn’t that Rashid in this instance deserves defending for his performance in the last Test, it’s that it’s impossible to ever know with such players how good they might be, so determined is the sporting culture to force them down narrow channels. This happens at elite youth level all too frequently to begin with, discipline too often coming to mean an insistence on conformity.

There is a consistent focus on what players can’t do rather than what they can. The idea that Rashid can be a stock bowler in Tests is absurd, yet so much of the criticism aimed at him consists of complaints about his accuracy and economy – it’s such a very English thing to do. None of this means that he is the answer to all our prayers, nor that his on field performances shouldn’t be criticised, but the pre-disposition in so many quarters to hold him to a standard he could never possibly achieve is simply bizarre, while the lack of scrutiny over how he is used is a failure of analysis.

Still, Denly can bowl a few leggies if asked, while Rashid can focus on more important personal matters.

For Jennings, there must now be serious questions over his future. He probably does have the aptitude for it, but his technical problems have become a major barrier for him. He has time to go and put that right, but it could be a long haul.

For Stuart Broad, with his new, more economical run up and work on his action, much will be expected. Not because of anything much more than that his omission was deemed in some quarters more culpable for defeat than the abysmal batting display in the first innings and the in some ways worse in the second. Being out of a losing side is one of the best ways to improve a reputation after all.

In the West Indies camp all is serene, the victory in Kensington most obviously allowing the clear anger at a perceived lack of respect to be vented from a position of strength. And why not either.

The weather for tomorrow seems similar to today, cloudy with showers. The dash from the beach to the room in a downpour will have earned me all the sympathy I’m expecting.

Tomorrow morning I daresay I might liveblog it and see how that goes down.