Following England’s defeat in Antigua, the series against the West Indies has been lost and England come away with more questions than answers. 2019 was supposed to bring unprecedented success for this England team, but a little over 30 days into the year, is it already looking bleak?
Where do England go from here?
Miles Reucroft (MR): I’m not sure what they do now nor who they drop. It’s impossible. I usually have some idea of what I think they should be doing or who they should be selecting, but I’m stumped. For once, I’m glad I’m not a selector!
Andy Hunter (AH): It’s difficult to know where to start isn’t it. I paid £7.99 for NowTV on Saturday to watch us bat in the hope I’d see a few glimmers of hope. Alas, I saw nothing.
Would you ring the changes for the final Test?
MR: Sometimes the hardest thing you can do is nothing at all and maybe that’s what they should do here. Just roll out the same 11 and let them try and repair some of the damage, to see what they’ve learned.
AH: I’m usually very reactionary in these instances, but I’d only change Chris Woakes for Sam Curran in the final Test. The inquest starts upon their return after another sorry tour.
Is it just the batting that needs addressing?
MR: It’s hard to pick fault with the bowlers. Sam Curran has been a bit toothless but that’s not why England have lost.
AH: I cannot fault the bowlers. I’ve never seen Jimmy Anderson as angry as he was when he opened the bowling with the West Indies needing 14 to win in Antigua. Honestly, I thought he might just retire at the end of the Test. The bowling is not the issue. Although who the hell is going to take over if/when Jimmy goes is of huge concern.
If the bowling is ok whose place is in jeopardy for the summer ahead?
MR: Joe Denly won’t last long. Rory Burns will get a run. Jonny Bairstow has done okay at three although getting bowled repeatedly isn’t brilliant – his scoring in the position has been fine. Joe Root got two unplayable balls in Antigua, Jos Buttler is a major problem now with bat and catching, Ben Stokes has bowled superbly, Ben Foakes… a very beige series after his exploits in Sri Lanka, then you’re into the bowlers. I’d only see Root and Stokes as nailed on right now, and Stokes because of his bowling rather than his batting.
AH: Denly will play again. He’s not good enough and you could see when batting in the second innings he knows he’s not good enough, but at least he showed some guts. Burns looks the part but he’s got a big technical issue playing off the back foot on the offside. The bat comes down at 45 degrees which means he’s likely to chop on or knick off frequently. The Aussies will have seen that. Bairstow just isn’t a three. He shouldn’t bat any higher than five. Good players don’t get bowled 28% of the time.
So, if Denly won’t last long who comes next? Jason Roy?
AH: Picking Roy would be the final confirmation this regime is fatally flawed. What we saw from the West Indies was guts and an acceptance that they had to put their bodies on the line to succeed on that pitch. Darren Bravo’s bruises above his hips and on his chest were battle scars to be commended. We still think that if the ball is dominating the best chance we have is to score quickly. That’s not Test cricket.
MR: I can only see two routes. You double down on the attacking cricket and really go for it. Get Roy and Alex Hales to open. But that doesn’t seem likely. Or they go for a further split in the sides and keep the ODI teams and Test teams really separate. No more Bairstow and Buttler. Drop Root to five. Re-invent the top four. Stokes pushed out to six or seven. Roy’s is a name that consistently pops up though. He must be in the frame, but this side doesn’t really need another flashy middle order red ball batsman.
So how do England move forward?
AH: Personally, I’d like to see new players come in. I think it’s time to do almost what Australia have and pick three 20-year old’s who we’re going to stick by. I am also going to demand Haseeb Hameed comes back in. Of all the openers we’ve tried, he remains the best I’ve seen and whilst he has no form at all, just get him in. How can he be worse than anyone else?
MR: I’m not keen on following the Australian model. Even our lot could stand up to India’s pace attack at home. England need split coaching across the format. A new batting coach, so Mark Ramprakash out. They all bat like he did: talented but flawed. I know the consensus is that these guys shouldn’t need coaching, but they just don’t play enough First Class cricket. They are learning on the job, so they need the best possible coaching available to them. Ramprakash, clearly, isn’t that.
AH: I agree and disagree. I think split coaches is the only way to go, but it’s the players who are getting this horribly wrong and whilst I’m sure Ramprakash isn’t the ideal man, let’s not scapegoat him. It’s Root, Stokes, Bairstow, Buttler, Moeen Ali who are the ones consistently under delivering.
Will 2019 improve or could this turn into another horrible year for English cricket?
AH: It certainly hasn’t started well. Everyone seemed convinced England would win comfortably in the Caribbean and obviously that has not happened. I have had serious concerns about the mindset of this group for couple of years now and what happened in Antigua was something that didn’t surprise me. The ODI side has improved immeasurably since the debacle of 2015 but I’m still yet to be convinced that these players are anything other than flat track bullies. I’m now very worried about the Ashes, too. Australia have several bowlers who can hurt England in their own conditions, but as long as Jimmy Anderson remains fit their batsman will struggle to succeed. It could be the lowest scoring Ashes series in history if things continue. Sadly, unless England start losing home Test series the ECB will continue to destroy the make-up of the domestic game here, so perhaps losing the Ashes might be the best thing to stabilise the game in this country.
MR: England’s away form has been patchy for a while now and this West Indies side has performed at a level not many were expecting – we’re obviously talking about England here, but hats off to Jason Holder and his men for having the plans and the skills to expose these English flaws. This might just be the reality check that England needed. They clearly thought they had a blueprint with two spinners and three/four seamers working incredibly well in 2018, but that has been ruthlessly exposed, so a re-think is required. The ODI machine will roll on untainted by this Test series, so the World Cup is very much a possibility. The Ashes? For all England’s woes on the road, they remain a formidable opponent on home soil. There are lessons to be learned and points to be proved. If the World Cup and Ashes are won, this West Indies series may well prove to have been a blessing in disguise.
By Miles Reucroft and Andy Hunter