By Michael Stafford-Jones
- England are thrashed by the West Indies by 381 runs
- Batsmen perform poorly in first innings’ 77 all out and some are even worse in the second innings
- Stuart Broad is left out on a pitch that would have suited him
BARBADOS, WEST INDIES – England suffer humiliating 381-run loss to the West Indies after they are dismissed for just 77 in the first innings.
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England must make better starts to Test series
England lost the First Test in four of their last six series, and the only reason they did not lose the other two was because they were saved by lower order runs.
This tendency to start series badly reared its head spectacularly in Barbados this January. England were bowled out for 77 by the West Indies in their first innings and ended up losing the match by an extraordinary margin of 381 runs.
It was very similar to the start they made in New Zealand last March, when they were skittled for 58 in the first innings and lost by an innings.
And it has to stop if England are to realise their ambition of becoming the No.1 team in the world.
Only they know why it keeps happening. Whether it is down to poor preparation, poor concentration, complacency, or something else entirely, the players and the management have to stamp it out.
England’s batting line-up is not good enough
For too long now, England have hid behind the excuse that their best players are all-rounders. They have ignored the fact that a team needs proper batsmen to rack up big totals.
That means the kind of batsmen who can maintain their concentration all day long, avoid playing stupid shots and sensibly accumulate enough runs to make a significant contribution most of the times they are at the crease.
When England last reached the summit of world cricket in 2011, four of their top five – Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell – were capable of doing exactly that and the fifth – Kevin Pietersen – was brilliant on enough occasions to get away with some soft dismissals.
Now, none of England’s top five can be relied upon to produce big scores regularly. Keaton Jennings averages just 25.86 in 30 innings, Jonny Bairstow fails just as often as he succeeds, Ben Stokes only averages 33.33 in 91 innings and Joe Root has such a poor conversion rate from 50 to 100 that his contributions are frequently not of the match-winning variety.
Thankfully, Rory Burns looks to have the right temperament for Test cricket. He has made a promising start to his international career, and his 84 in the second innings in Barbados was one of the few bright spots, so hopefully he can become a top-class opener.
As for the others, something has to change. With two, the answers are simple: Bairstow has to score runs regularly at No.3 or England will have to move him back down the order and Root must make more centuries.
However, the other two should be removed from the top five immediately. Stokes should move down the order and Keaton Jennings should be dropped and never recalled as he is not good enough for Test cricket.
That leaves a vacant position at No.5 that Jos Buttler should be given a chance to fill, and a problem at opener that is more difficult to resolve. The most obvious candidate, Jason Roy, is hardly the type to play a long, disciplined innings. However, he has so much ability that he deserves a chance, and he could end up playing a Pietersen-like role.
In the longer term, if Bairstow under-performs at No.3 and England move back him down the order, they will have to find a replacement.
Unfortunately, there is no-one ideally suited to fill that spot. Ollie Pope is very talented but also very young and he is better at No.5. James Vince has tried – and failed – to take his chances. And James Hildreth, one of the most consistent players in the County Championship, is probably too old at 34.
So that leaves the England Lions or a left-field choice. In their most recent four-day match, Nick Gubbins, Max Holden, Joe Clarke and Sam Billings played for the Lions. Gubbins made 20 and 4, Holden made 4 and 19, Clarke made 0 and 107 and Billings made 74 not out and 38. As Billings is too similar to Stokes, Buttler and Bairstow, on that evidence they should pick Clarke, but he remains far from an obvious choice to fix England’s batting woes.
If England want to look elsewhere, they could try Sam Northeast, who has shown the aptitude to play long innings during his time at Kent and Hampshire.
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Stuart Broad should have been one of the first names on the team sheet
On a pitch suited to tall fast bowlers, England picked Sam Curran, a five-foot-nine left-armer who rarely reaches 85mph, to open the bowling with James Anderson. He only took one wicket in 29 overs and went at over four an over throughout.
They also selected two spinners to bowl on a wicket that did not turn, and these decisions meant that Stuart Broad, a six-foot-six fast bowler who has taken 433 wickets, was not in the team. So England made mistakes before the match had even started, and things only got worse from there.
West Indies are a much better opponent than expected
After England beat No.1 Test team India and secured their first-ever whitewash in Asia against Sri Lanka, beating the West Indies was considered by many to be an easy task.
The First Test emphatically showed that is not the case as most of the team contributed to a famous win. In particular, Captain Jason Holder was outstanding, Shimron Hetmyer looks to be an excellent middle-order prospect, Roston Chase performed well with ball and bat and Kemar Roach bowled brilliantly in the first innings.
England will be determined to bounce back and win the series 2-1, but it will be tough against a side that has already demonstrated how much talent it has.
The Second Test between England and the West Indies begins in Antigua on Thursday 31st January at 2pm GMT.
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