When the dust settles on The Ashes series seven months’ hence, it may just be that England’s chastening 2-1 Test series defeat in the Caribbean will prove to have been a watershed in the making of Joe Root’s team. We shall see.
Whichever way, West Indies, who started the recent three-Test rubber as underdogs (although maybe not such heavy underdogs as some England personnel believed), wrapped up the series in a mere seven days’ playing time before the tourists responded by thumping the hosts in St Lucia.
Certainly, West Indies were missing their banned captain Jason Holder in England’s 232-run victory in Gros Islet as well as having to contend with a mid-match injury to Keemo Paul, a highly impressive young fast-bowling all-rounder. There was also, perhaps, a hint of “demob happy” syndrome in the home ranks.
But England can nevertheless reflect satisfactorily on events in St Lucia after the twin horrors of Barbados and Antigua. And here’s why:
- With Jonny Bairstow batting at No7, the balance of the side was so much better. Ben Foakes could feel somewhat unfortunate to be dropped, but England simply couldn’t continue to shoehorn in so many all-rounders.
- The identity of the preferred personnel in the top three in the order is still far from clear, but at least England now know they require three specialist upper-order batsmen in those positions.
- Bairstow isn’t a Test No3 and Root insists on batting at No4. So Joe Denly’s second-innings 69 batting at No3 was not only pleasing on the eye, but should also be sufficient for him to be pencilled in at first drop – or even maybe as an opener – for the next (one-off) Test against Ireland in late July and the beginning of The Ashes thereafter. His occasional leg spin is serviceable, but shouldn’t be a factor in selection.
- With Mark Wood included ahead of Sam Curran, it meant that Ben Stokes was deployed as a fourth seamer in St Lucia – and the Durham all-rounder’s batting (79 & 48 not out) was much the better for it. Stokes was ridiculously over-bowled in the first two Tests and his batting suffered accordingly (0 & 34 in Barbados, 14 & 11 in Antigua).
- England’s batting in St Lucia wasn’t perfect, but the discipline that’s required for Test cricket was vastly improved from Barbados and Antigua, where some of the shot selection was truly dreadful. There is definitely plenty of room for an attacking, aggressive approach in Test cricket, but there also has to be a pragmatic balance.
With the upper-order cupboard at large being decidedly bare, the top three for the Ireland Test and beyond remains potentially problematic. Like Denly, Rory Burns deserves further opportunities while Jason Roy and the talented, yet largely unfulfilled, James Vince could be in contention. On the bowling front, Olly Stone and Chris Woakes will hopefully be fully fit while Jofra Archer will have qualified to play for England.
England to regain The Ashes? What could possibly go wrong?