By Michael Stafford-Jones

  • West Indies beat England by ten wickets to seal series win
  • England’s batsmen fail again as their team are bowled out for 187 and 132
  • West Indies show them how to defend as they battle to 306
ANTIGUA, WEST INDIES – England fall to an embarrassing series defeat in the Caribbean after their batsmen let them down again with poor performances.

 

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When the going gets tough, England’s batsmen capitulate

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It was all going so well for England. They beat India – the World’s No.1 Test team – at home and went away to Sri Lanka and earned a historic whitewash.

Then they travelled to the Caribbean expecting to comfortably beat West Indies – the No.8 Test team. Instead, they were thrashed in the first two Tests and need to restore some pride in the final match in St. Lucia.

The blame for England’s heavy losses falls squarely at the feet of their batsmen. They have only made six scores of 30 or more between them and this has led to pathetic totals of 77, 246, 187 and 132.

Admittedly, circumstances have been against them in two of the innings. Kemar Roach produced one of his best-ever spells to take 5-17 during the 77 and the pitch was a bit of a minefield during the 187.

However, when times are tough, that is when players need to show their mental strength. And, on this evidence, England’s batsmen do not possess much of that.

If they want to turn things around, the top six should watch videos of some of the best defensive batsmen in Test history. They should be made to sit in front of a television and watch hours of Geoffrey Boycott and Alastair Cook. They would also do well to watch footage of great fighters like Steve Waugh and Gary Kirsten – players who treated their wicket like it was the most important thing in the world.

And then they should go into the nets and practise the boring stuff like forward defensives and leaving the ball. It has often been said in recent times that England’s batsmen try to play the same way in Test cricket as they do in one-day cricket and that seems like fair comment. They must re-discover the art of defending successfully and playing long, disciplined innings as soon as possible.

 

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Certain batsmen have particular issues

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Although it seems unlikely that Joe Denly is the answer to England’s opening conundrum, he will probably get a run of at least two more matches in the team and that is a fair way to operate.

His opening partner, Rory Burns, deserves plenty of patience because he has demonstrated over the last four outstanding seasons in county cricket that he is the closest thing England have to another Cook.

Jonny Bairstow needs to make radical changes to his defensive technique if he is going to be a long-term solution at number three. He has been dismissed either bowled or lbw more than 20% of the times he has batted. This is an extraordinary stat, as playing straight balls is supposed to be a fundamental skill that the best batsmen possess.

Joe Root and Jos Buttler have been England’s unluckiest batsmen in the Caribbean as they have frequently been dismissed by some brilliant deliveries by West Indies’ bowlers. They will both be vital in this summer’s Ashes series.

As for Ben Stokes, he is the biggest worry. He has now gone 26 innings without scoring a century, and he has only made three fifties in his last 22 innings. Curiously, however, his problem might be the reverse of England’s other batsmen because, according to the stats, he was more successful when he was batting aggressively. And, given his recent shortage of runs, what further damage could it do if he went out and attacked the bowlers like he used to?

One of the few positives of England’s second Test defeat was the 60 scored by Moeen Ali in the first innings. The all-rounder owed his team an innings like that, but he must find a way to produce that kind of performance more consistently.

 

West Indies have performed magnificently

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Although it has been horrifying to watch England lose so emphatically in Barbados and Antigua, it has also been heartening to see a once-great cricketing nation demonstrate that it can still produce excellent players.

In the First Test, Jason Holder, Shiron Hetmyer, Roston Chase and Roach led the way with superb displays. In the Second Test, there were even more notable performances.

The four-man pace attack of Roach, Holder, Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph was so effective that it never allowed England any respite from their torment, and every West Indian batsman (except Chase, who was bowled by one that kept very low) contributed to their team’s total of 306, which was an excellent effort on a difficult pitch.

The challenge for these players now is to back up this success. They need to look at what they have done well and work out how to re-produce against other opposition. If they can do this, they will soon climb up the world rankings, and that can only be a good thing for the health of Test cricket.

The third and final Test between England and the West Indies begins in St. Lucia at 2pm GMT on Saturday 9th February 2019.

 

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