And so the dust begins to settle.
Let’s get something clear here, before the start of the Test series, an England win was expected by everyone. No one in the media said that the West Indies were an improving side, no one in the press said that there were grounds for concern. England might be a “developing” (a delightful euphemism for “not very good”) team, but the result of the series would be that England would win it. And they haven’t.
And here come the excuses. Colin Graves was at fault for motivating the West Indies by calling them mediocre apparently. Let’s just look at that for a moment. Say that what he said did motivate them, did do their team talk for them. Are we really saying that a few words from the chairman of the ECB, a man most of the West Indies team have probably never heard of, made the difference? Firstly, that’s incredibly insulting to the West Indies team, it implies that without such words they would have rolled over to defeat. It also says that England could only win if they were scrupulously polite about the opposition. How fragile must this England team be? How shallow must the West Indies be?
It’s a nonsensical line of argument, particularly so when Alastair Cook talked only a few days ago of how the West Indies would crack under pressure. If anything were to motivate the opposition, those words would have done it – but to suggest they did is still silly, for all the reasons above. The series was drawn because of what happened on the field, not what was said off it, especially when both instances are pretty mild.
As it happens, Graves shouldn’t have said what he did – but not because of what happened in the series, simply because it was impolite. But people who are outspoken sometimes say things, weirdly enough. That four paragraphs have been written about something so supremely irrelevant is a reflection of how some have grasped at straws. Let’s move on.
It is genuinely pleasing to see some signs of life in West Indies cricket. The wider picture is important, and they do seem to have found some young players who have a bit about them. Jermaine Blackwood had a terrific series, averaging a shade under 80. There’s little question that his innings first time around in Bridgetown went a long way towards the eventual result; his team were dead and buried without him, and he kept them in the game. Jason Holder equally looks a good prospect, while Darren Bravo played with a discipline yesterday that’s been lacking in much of his career. In all cases it’s up to them to ensure it’s not just a one off, but something to build on. It’s hard to see this side seriously troubling Australia in a month, but nor should they be expected to. It’s at the bottom of a very long and winding hill – there’s a heartbeat, that’s enough for now.
As an aside, what a sad cricketing irony it was to see Shiv Chanderpaul look like he’s reached the end. A player who almost single handedly kept them alive over a grim decade, but whose age catches up just as there seems to be some hope. No one ever said life was fair.
England lost this game in their batting. First innings wasn’t good enough; the pitch was at its best, and scoring under 300 was abject. Cook held the innings together, with an innings that was obdurate and stubborn, and he certainly deserves credit for that. His dismissal at the close of day one was likely a loss of concentration. It’s not that surprising shortly after a hundred he so desperately wanted and needed, and blaming the bloke who got the hundred for getting out misses the point as much as it always did.
Yet Cook’s hundred was not evidence of him being back and it’s wishful thinking on the part of those who worship at the altar of the blessed Alastair to assume it is. His technique remains flawed and there are serious concerns about how he will shape up against a better attack this summer and next winter. He deserves immense credit for getting it, because even the longest journey begins with a single step, but that’s as far as it goes.
Bell had a poor Test, and not a great series. Indeed, he’s struggled since his Ashes mirabilis in 2013. He clearly deserves the patience his record warrants, but it is concerning as we go into the summer that he seems so adrift from where he could be, especially so given that he doesn’t appear out of form.
We are probably saying goodbye to Jonathan Trott. There’s an extensive piece elsewhere, so there’s no point going over that again. His near tearful reaction at the end of the match suggested he knows it too. There’s no shame in attempting to come back, and no shame in not succeeding. He’s been a fine servant for England.
England’s second innings of 123 showcased all the problems that have been evident for some years, especially the way that they freeze when put under pressure. The irony of Cook’s comments about the West Indies cracking under such pressure is evident, and this is nothing new. The tour to New Zealand two years ago had a few instances of England becoming strokeless and terrified of defeat. For all the talk about England playing fearless cricket, they do the opposite. Only Stokes and Buttler tried to reverse the position, and Stokes then received criticism for the way he got out. That’s just not good enough. When a player tries to change the momentum they are taking risks to do so – sometimes it doesn’t come off. The reality is that it still has to be attempted. That England got as many as 123 is down to him, and then Buttler.
Buttler was again left high and dry. At number eight in the order that’s clearly going to be a risk, but given the side England selected, should he be any higher in the order? Probably not. The issue is that England’s lower order fold even when there is a batsman to play for. Jordan was a bit unlucky, and Anderson fought. Broad’s batting is simply not good enough for someone of his ability. There were signs in the first innings of the smallest smidgen of progress – he stayed in line at the point of delivery (he stayed legside of the ball, true) which is more than he’s being doing recently. But he’s in pieces still.
Root and Ballance both had good tours, one of the most striking features of the second innings shambles was how England fell apart when those two failed with the bat. Like always, we cannot rely on players having unsustainable runs of form to bail us out of a hole. At some point, they won’t manage it. Still, in the wider context, those two have been a success.
Moeen Ali had a curious time of it. His bowling wasn’t great, but compared to what? His first class record hardly suggests he is a world class spinner, but he is a hard worker and improving. Bringing him in after an injury and with little bowling behind him was a gamble, and one that didn’t work. He batted well in the first innings before Cook ran him out, but he needs to deliver more than he is. He’s flattering to deceive and becoming a bit of a frustration. He clearly has talent and desire, even if the blame game is trying to highlight him.
Buttler himself did well throughout the series. His keeping was good, and he’s still inexperienced in that discipline. His missed stumping yesterday cannot and should not be used as an excuse (another one). Keepers do make mistakes. The specific missed stumping is one of those that commentators and journalists who have never done it talk about as being easy. It is an abiding frustration that those who know nothing about keeping are so keen to dispense their lack of knowledge. When the ball goes between bat and pad, there is a tendency not to follow the line of the ball, but the expected path of the shot. It’s a bad miss because every keeper who has ever done it (and every keeper has) berates themselves for the error. But it happens, and happens a fair bit. A perfect example of the complete lack of understanding about wicketkeeping comes when a catch standing up to the stumps is described as good reactions. It’s nonsense. When standing up, the keeper isn’t even aware that there has been an edge until AFTER the ball is in the gloves or on the ground; the brain simply cannot process information that quickly.
None of which means that Buttler won’t be bitterly disappointed not to have taken the stumping, but some understanding is required here. He made very few mistakes behind the stumps this series, and for a young player making his way in Test cricket, that’s a good effort. Wicketkeepers drop catches and they miss stumpings. It was ever thus.
Chris Jordan is another who showed promise without ever fully justifying his inclusion. His catching in the slips was genuinely astonishing, and he bowled some fine spells without seeing quite the rewards. Like Ben Stokes, his wicket taking was below what would have been hoped for.
Broad with the ball seemed to be getting his mojo back. He needs overs under his belt more than anything.
And then there’s Anderson. The best compliment he can be paid is the frightening thought of him getting injured this summer. Like with Root and Ballance, England cannot be so reliant on him going forward and hope to succeed. He was overbowled in the last home Ashes due to desperation, and largely ineffective thereafter. He’s a fine bowler, but he’s not invincible.
Peter Moores spoke after the game talking about how players had developed over the series. Presumably he meant that Lyth, Wood and Rashid have become particularly expert on which bats to carry out to those playing, and what combination of drink they prefer. In any tour, players are left out, and often become little more than a spare part, yet this was a missed opportunity. If Rashid is not to be selected for pitches like Bridgetown or St Georges, when is he going to be selected? Is it remotely likely that he will play in the Ashes or in May/June Tests against New Zealand? England were on a tour against one of the weaker sides in world cricket, and chose not to introduce new players, but to stick with the tried and presumably trusted. Perhaps the worst part of that is the fear about what a player can’t do, not what they can. This is symptomatic of the problems in the England team, the negative considerations always outweighing the positive.
James Whitaker looks likely to pay the price for this tour, having been described (as was Moores) as a “dead man walking” at the outset. Yet it wasn’t the selectors who ignored the fringe players on this tour, that was down to the captain and coach. Whitaker has been something of a PR disaster in his role, but it would be somewhat cruel for him to ultimately be blamed for the reluctance of Team England to trust the selections he and his colleagues made.
Moores himself is now extremely vulnerable. Both he and Cook specifically contradicted the words of the chairman, in the captain’s case by his effectively partially blaming Graves for the outcome, and in Moores’ by saying there was no need for an enquiry. Repeatedly saying how it had been a “good tour” in defiance of the results simply adds to the impression of being removed from reality. And yet there should be some sympathy for Moores. A better and stronger captain would have made a significant difference, but he has helped in his own downfall by being front and centre in terms of what he wants. England are the only team in the world where the coach has such a significant role in how the team actually plays, it is impossible to imagine Duncan Fletcher being interested in such a structure – which is perhaps exactly why Fletcher wanted captains like Hussain and Vaughan who knew their own minds.
And then there’s the captain himself. It is curious how so many queue up to damn him with faint praise. He did indeed do alright as captain this series. Alright. For Moores to talk about him learning in the role is preposterous, he’s now one of the longest serving captains England have ever had. When will he learn to be England captain? 2019? When he breaks Graeme Smith’s Test record perhaps? Maybe then he’ll actually be “not bad”. Highlighting that he’s done alright merely emphasises that he so often has been awful.
The least surprising, but most troubling news came in the shape of various articles indicating Strauss would get the DoC role. Above all else, such an appointment would be a circling of the wagons and a reinforcement of the status quo. As Vaughan said last night, sometimes you just have to accept it isn’t working. Unless you’re the ECB.
England drew with the eighth ranked side in Test cricket, who in the last four years have beaten only New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Stop the excuses.