West Indies vs England: Another bout of calamitous batting condemns Joe Root’s side to series defeat

That’s the way they play. England may have lost a Test series, but they’ve kept their principles intact. After all, when you set out to play bold, aggressive cricket, then surely you have to price in the odd three-day defeat to the world’s No 8 side now and again. Presumably Joe Root’s side will park this experience and move on. It’s St Lucia next week. We go again.

At stumps on Friday, Stuart Broad marvelled at how the West Indies batsmen had toughed it out on a difficult pitch, playing out the entire day and building up a healthy lead. “They’ve shown a lot of grit and they’ve left better than us,” he admitted. 

Lessons for England to learn, then. You might think.

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“But is that the way we’ll get back into this Test?” Broad continued. “Probably not. We’re going to have to move the game on. We need someone to be a bit of a hero with the bat.” 

And so, less then 24 hours later, came this: bowled out in just 42.1 overs, their lowest Test total in over a week. And if this didn’t feel like a classic modern England batting collapse, then that’s because you generally need something to collapse from.


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More profane than the fact of the dismissals was their manner: of England’s top seven, one (Rory Burns) was caught in the slips playing a late cut, one (Joe Denly) was LBW padding up and three (Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali) were bowled playing the sort of big expansive drives more redolent of 300-3 than 60-4. Kemar Roach and Jason Holder were the pick of the bowlers with four wickets each, but they certainly didn’t have to earn all of them.

Still, that’s the way they play. And Broad’s blithe insistence that England would reject the West Indies’ approach (successful), in favour of their own (horribly unsuccessful), encapsulated the problem. What has been sold to the public – and, you suspect each other – as a positive mindset and a commendable clarity of vision is increasingly beginning to resemble pig-headed stubbornness.

We can all see the vision: it’s the cathartic first morning at Edgbaston in 2005, it’s Steve Waugh’s ruthless Australians, it’s Brendon McCullum’s fearless New Zealand side, it’s Eoin Morgan’s one-day team. All very fine. You can’t argue with the vision, but you can argue with the results. England haven’t made 400 in a live Test for 14 months. They’ve just been demolished again. A healthy run rate of 3.13 an over, though. So that’s something.

Last summer, Virat Kohli rewired his entire technique and mindset in an attempt to master English conditions. But that sort of introspection or initiative appears to be beyond this team. That’s not the way they play. In a sense, it’s a form of intellectual laziness: a fundamental inability to reflect, a fundamental absence of thought. This is England’s comfort zone, and they’re happy there. 

We frequently hear about players exploring the outer limits of their talent. We hear a lot less about exploring the inner limits. How long can you stay in the fight? How far are you willing to go in order to find a way? How much, ultimately, do you really, really not want to get out? But England don’t really seem that interested in those sorts of questions. Perhaps because they’re terrified of what they might find. Perhaps they’re worried that, if they deconstruct their games and search deep within, they might find nothing at all. 

Perhaps this team aren’t anywhere near as good as they think they are. Certainly that could be true of the batsmen, who with the exception of Joe Root are currently playing like what they are – a moderately-talented bunch with averages in the low to mid-30s. England’s bowlers won them the series against India and Sri Lanka. Here, faced with a superior bowling attack, they crumbled. 

England did at least fulfil the first part of their job during 20 well-disciplined overs in the morning session. Resuming on 272-6, the West Indies were bowled out for just 34 more, with James Anderson taking two wickets, including the dangerous Jason Holder. Darren Bravo hung around just long enough to record the 21st century’s slowest Test fifty – 215 balls and more than five-and-a-half hours – before rather comically dancing down the track and getting stumped. 

The West Indies led by 119.

It would have been a daunting enough deficit on a decent track. But with the pitch increasingly resembling a road – albeit an Antiguan road, complete with divots, ridges and hold-on-for-dear-life potholes – England were going to need a bit of luck. And from the moment Rory Burns cut straight to third slip, England were in the swamp, and the only real point of contention was how comically they would sink into it. The answer: very.

The West Indies seamer Alzarri Joseph had lost his mother overnight. He decided to take the field nonetheless. There were black armbands for both teams and a generous reception at the wicket when he batted. And from man one to man eleven, the West Indies seemed to charge in as if possessed by some strange, otherworldly power: vaguely glazed expressions and superhuman strength. Joseph hit 91mph. Shannon Gabriel touched 94mph. And when the ball hit the bumps, there was little England could do.

Resistance was not only futile, but curiously non-existent. Burns played a shocking shot. Jonny Bairstow had a big drive at Holder’s inswinger and was bowled. Joseph found Root’s glove with one that leapt off the pitch in a puff of dust. England were 56-3 and still more than 60 behind.

And so: come in, Joe Denly, your country needs you. He had survived another nervy start and a dropped catch on 0, so clearly the fates were smiling on him. In a way, it felt like his entire career had been building up to this moment: from first hitting a ball in the back garden with his brother, to first turning out for Whitstable in pristine new whites, to taking delivery last autumn of a fresh, snug new England cap. Everything he had been through had led him to this point. Alas, 11 balls later he left a straight one from Joseph and was bowled. 

Well, you can probably guess what happened next. Ben Stokes could have been out four or five times before eventually getting bowled off the inside edge. Moeen Ali, bowled too. Ben Foakes, to be fair to him, got a terrific delivery, a heat-seeking missile from Roach that tailed into his front pad. Four balls later, Buttler was gone too. And so were England.

West Indies needed 14 to win. It took them just 13 balls to knock them off. John Campbell finished matters with a six: a final, emphatic flourish to end three dominant days by the home side. They attacked when they needed to, they sat tight when they needed to, they read the situation and the conditions, and they played within their capabilities.

That’s the way the West Indies play. And that’s the way you win. 

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