By Michael Stafford-Jones
- England started and finished the series superbly to beat West Indies 2-1
- James Anderson and Ben Stokes were England’s best performers
- Here are five key takeaways from the three-match Test series
LORD’S, ENGLAND – England thrashed West Indies in the 1st Test, fell to a shock defeat in the 2nd Test and then recovered well to win the 3rd Test and take the series 2-1. Here are five things we learnt from the matches.
Stokes could swing the Ashes in England’s favour
Most of Ben Stokes’ biggest contributions to England’s Test matches this summer have come with the bat, but in the Third Test he came to the party with the ball. The Durham all-rounder’s first-innings spell of 6/22 was a truly world-class display of swing bowling and, if he can take vital wickets in Australia, his presence could prove to be the difference between the teams this winter.
Due to the continuing struggles of some of the top order, Stokes’ batting is more important to England than ever before. He scored a match-winning 100 and hit two 50s against South Africa, then scored another 150 against the West Indies. Unless the top order strugglers find form Down Under, England will need similar performances from the talismanic Stokes to win the Ashes.
England’s problem batting positions remain an issue
After three encouraging innings of 25, 59 and 29, Tom Westley made five single-figure scores in a row to leave his Ashes place in doubt.
These performances led former England captain Michael Vaughan to tell BBC Sport: “Only a few Test matches into his career so far, I think he has been worked out.”
Westley’s 44 not out in his last innings of the summer may encourage the selectors to take him to Australia, but his place in the starting XI is far from assured, and he must address the weaknesses in his technique if he is to have a long Test career.
Mark Stoneman has made an encouraging start to his Test career with a gritty 52 at Headingley and an assured unbeaten 40 in the final run chase against the West Indies, so he will keep his opening berth alongside Alastair Cook. However, he must continue to perform well against Australia’s potent pace attack to retain his spot.
Dawid Malan has recovered well from his South African baptism of fire by scoring two 50s against the West Indies. Encouragingly, both half-centuries were patient efforts that demonstrated the right temperament for Test cricket, so the Middlesex man deserves the opportunity to make the number five position his own in Australia.
England’s pace bowling is good but lacks express pace
James Anderson’s career-best 7-42 at Lord’s took his tally to 39 wickets in an outstanding summer and remains arguably England’s best-ever bowler. Stuart Broad bowled tidily throughout both series but never took more than three wickets in an innings and did not look as threatening as he has in the past. England will need him to step up his performances during the Ashes.
Toby Roland-Jones looks to be an excellent selection by England. He has snaffled 17 wickets in his first four Tests and is yet to finish an innings without taking a wicket. The Middlesex man may find it more difficult to be effective on the high-bouncing, batsman-friendly pitches in Australia, but he looks to have the skills required to succeed at the highest level.
However, as good as all three players are, none of them possess the kind of express pace that Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins will demonstrate for Australia. Unfortunately, there are not many options waiting for England in county cricket, so they will probably have to rely on the injury-prone Mark Wood to add the kind of hostility to their bowling attack that can be so important on the fast, bouncy pitches of Australia.
England’s spin attack is short on established options
Moeen Ali has had an excellent summer as England’s premier spinner but will face his toughest challenge to date during the Ashes Down Under. Australia will look to target the Worcestershire off-spinner and throw him off his rhythm – an approach which has previously unsettled Ali. The tourists will hope he responds well to the test.
England do not yet know how Mason Crane will react to the rigours of Test cricket as he did not have the opportunity to make his debut during the series against the West Indies. The Hampshire leg-spinner would probably have played in the Third Test if the visitors had not recorded a shock win in the Second Test.
Consequently, if Crane is picked at any point during the Ashes, he will go into the match without having ever bowled in Test cricket before, and could conceivably be taken apart by the Australians. Such inexperience makes one wonder whether England would be better served by selecting Adil Rashid as the reserve spinner and sending Crane away on the Lions tour to enable him to bowl more overs at the highest level possible below full international cricket.
West Indies have reasons to be cheerful
After the media lambasted West Indies for their woeful display in the First Test of the series, the team responded in magnificent style by winning the Second Test by five wickets.
During that match, a new star emerged from within their ranks: Shai Hope. The young right-hander, 23, batted superbly as he became the first player in history to hit hundreds in both innings of a Test match at Headingley. He followed that display with a classy 62 at Lord’s and West Indies can expect plenty more brilliance from him in the future.
Opener Kraigg Brathwaite batted well during the series, averaging 47.16, and fell only five runs short of matching Hope’s hundred-in-each-innings feat at Headingley. West Indies also benefitted from three effective attacking cameos from Jermaine Blackwood (79 not out, 49 and 41) but the rest of their batsmen did not perform well enough to earn them a shock series win.
On the bowling side of things, Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder were good at times but usually too inconsistent to keep England under constant pressure. Kemar Roach was West Indies’s best bowler as he took 11 wickets in the series at 29.81.
Overall, West Indies have some good young batsmen and a decent pace attack, but they need to reinforce their batting line-up and find some effective spin bowlers to start climbing the Test rankings.
England continue to face the West Indies in the International Twenty20 & One Day Internationals, starting 16 September.
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