Afternoon all. Sorry the post is a bit late today. I was immobilized yesterday after eating an exceedingly gnarly piece of tuna on Saturday afternoon. Lots of regurgitation later, I am back in action although not going near another poke bowl any time soon.
In spite of my troubled state, I did manage to catch a fair bit of what was the busiest sporting weekend I can remember for some time. After spending much of the morning flicking between the Styrian Grand Prix and the North London derby, I eventually settled on watching the final hours of the first test match between England and the West Indies at Southampton’s Rose Bowl. Given that the race was a fairly dull affair, with Lewis Hamilton romping away to a predictable victory, and taking into account Arsenal’s painful defeat at the hands of Mourinho’s stale Tottenham side, I want to focus on the cricket today.
As with any home defeat for the English team, yesterday’s result has provoked a lot of questioning, soul-searching and finger-pointing from the local media. To me, its a fairly simple tale of missed opportunities on the pitch and poor decision-making off it.
Looking at the off-field decisions first, the most obvious error was leaving Stuart Broad out of the team. Stand-in captain Ben Stokes and the selectors have been clear about their reasoning: they felt the pitch would wear enough to favour pace and bounce on the final day, in which case Mark Wood and Jofra Archer would represent better options. There have also been suggestions that the selectors were planning for the Ashes in Australia down under, where pace is usually key. That’s fair enough, but you have to question the logic in dropping Broad. He is England’s most-successful bowler in the past year and their second-highest wicket-taker of all time with 485. With his swing and seam control he thrives in the gloomy conditions that were present on the first couple of days and would have been a huge weapon. His omission was a massive gamble that clearly didn’t pay off.
The second big mistake came when Stokes, after winning the toss, decided to bat first. It was raining, and the forecast was for overcast conditions for most of the first couple of days. That surely would have suited England’s bowling attack, with or without Broad, and we could have built up a useful and potentially match-winning first innings lead. But Stokes, wedded to a preconceived plan of how the match would pan out instead of reacting to the reality of the situation, decided to bat first. We were bowled out for 204 and were always chasing the game from that point. Its all very well having a gameplan but you have to react to specific circumstances. If it is drizzling on the first morning of a test match in England, then whoever wins the toss has to bowl first because batting is clearly going to be a huge challenge. Despite Stokes’ inexperience as a captain, he should have known that.
Then we come to the missed opportunities on the pitch. England fell short with the bat in both innings. In the first, four batsmen made it to 30, but Stokes was the highest scorer with 43. And in the second, we reached a commanding position of 249-3 before collapsing to 279-8 and eventually 313 all out. On both occasions, England had great opportunities to score 60-80 more runs. The habit of English batsmen making starts and failing to push on has plagued the team for years, and until it is addressed it will continue to affect results. Given how close the chase was on that final afternoon, those extra runs would have put more pressure on the Windies’ batsmen and might just have made the difference. It is a (mostly) young batting lineup that deserves to be given more time, but they must learn from this where their predecessors have failed.
There were also missed opportunities in the field. During the final afternoon, England had plenty of chances to break up the two partnerships – Jermaine Blackwood and Roston Chase, and then Blackwood and Shane Dowrich – which eventually steered home the Windies’ victory. Zak Crawley fumbled a simple gather when a run-out was on the cards, Joss Buttler dropped a leg-side snick and Rory Burns misjudged a tricky catch at gully. None were guilt-edged, but all were feasible had England been sharper in the field. And the bowling, while decent in spells, was imperfect. James Anderson, so-often our match-winning talisman, was ineffective on the final day and ended up wicketless. The same can be said for young spinner Dom Bess, although in truth he was underused after bowling only 10 overs.
Of course, this analysis has so far been markedly one-sided. A lot of credit should go to the Windies. Jason Holder and Shannon Gabriel bowled brilliantly in the first and second innings’ respectively, while Kraigg Brathwaite, Dowrich and in particular Blackwood made telling contributions with the bat. They were clearly the better team and deserved winners.
All in all, it was an excellent first match of the summer and it sets up an intriguing battle for the rest of the series. Looking ahead to the second test, which gets underway on Thursday in Manchester, from an English point of view Broad should come in for Wood while Joe Denly should be the batsman to make way for the returning Joe Root. With that extra bit of quality in the team, I fancy us to square the series ahead of the third and final match.
Right, that’s that from me. Have a great start to the week, I’ll be back here on Wednesday with more for you.