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England in the West Indies – Do we need to talk about Kevin..?

So the World Cup came to a rather predictable climax and the IPL now kicks into life for the next six weeks of pantomime, but over in the Caribbean there is actually some Test Match cricket about to commence as England tour there for three Test matches and mercifully no ‘short-form’ cricket.  At this time in the period of this England team, after a basically horrible ODI World Cup, where our performance was just about as bad as anyone could have feared (that we were spared complete humiliation against Afghanistan and Scotland really didn’t salvage any pride), we return to the form of the game where we currently are considered “okay” at the game.  Indeed, after the horror in Australia, it is easy to forget that we did “okay” last Summer, beating a decent but homesick Indian team and “unlucky” to lose to Sri Lanka.  For the record, we remain ranked third in the World in Test matches.  But are we back on track, at least in the longer form of the game..?

I am not so sure.  We have gone through a transition for sure and come out the other side in tact.  Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler have settled in well and you can expect to see them as permanent fixtures for some time.  And Chris Woakes, Chris Jordan and Ben Stokes are not far off the real deal and certainly bleed potential.  And of course, we still have Cook, Anderson, Bell and Broad who are all still very much part of the management’s plans and indeed, seem fully fit for a change.  That we still lack a genuine spinner and a dependable opener to Captain Cook (and indeed said Captain Cook’s form definitely not at its peak), you could be forgiven for thinking that all will fall into place and things are as well in Tests as they are horrific in the short form of the game.  At the very least, you would expect a comfortable victory in these upcoming three Tests against a side shorn of experience and exceptional talent….right..?  Well, maybe..!

For me, all is not that well.  Management does not inspire and Paul Downton was rather made the scapegoat when sacked last week.  Not that I dispute that decision, he has not improved things since his appointment and his lack of previous experience in a management role was clearly shown up.  No, the problem is, he is the only one to go and “scapegoat” is the word when you consider the various other coaches and selectors who are failing to impress.  I suspect Moores is on borrowed time and failures either here in the Caribbean or in the 2 Tests against New Zealand at home would almost certainly see a new Head Coach for the Summer Ashes.  For me, the sad part is that it will taker another embarrassment for this Nation to get the right man for the job.

As for the players, all is not that well there either.  Two warm-up games against St. Kitts, who were so poor, that five England players had to swell their numbers to have a half decent second game, gave little encouragement to think any missing parts were settled.  Clearly the new plan was to return Jonathan Trott straight back into the Test arena and push him up to open with Cook, thereby solving who Cook’s new partner should be and not unsettling the “Ballance” at 3 where the Yorkshireman has done pretty well.  The trouble is, Trott made some easy runs in the first game, but failed in both innings (playing for both sides) in the second and Ballance clearly looks out of form and I believe is suffering from being shoved into the drama of the World Cup and unsettling his mindset and confidence that he had from last Summer.  He should have been left well out of that disaster!

The other main issue, the spin department is far from resolved.  Moeen Ali is still doing a fine job (although still should be the ‘second’ spinner), but then he is not in the Caribbean anyway, resting up a niggle.  Adil Rashid and James Tredwell are currently vying for the ‘fill-in’ spot starting Monday (looks like Tredders has done enough) and Adam Riley and Scott Borthwick are still very much in the management’s minds.  Monty….is not!  For me, sadly, I don’t think any of these guys are going to become World class and I cannot see anything on the horizon.  I fancy Moeen is the guy for some time to come and the next time we visit some Sub-Continent dust-bowls, they will have to choose an inexperienced spinner to fill the void.

As for the rest of the team, they just lack any kind of form and confidence.  Broad and Anderson will have to carry the burden of the attack and I hope they find their feet that were bruised so in the World Cup; Bell and Cook need some big scores; Buttler still has to prove himself and the rest are playing for their places.

So, the starting line-up for Monday..?  Well, albeit Trott’s failures in the last warm-up game, I think they will stick with him and he will open with Cook, then Ballance at 3, followed by Bell, Root, Stokes and Buttler, with Jordan, Anderson and Broad backed up by Tredwell as the spinner.  Not sure they really need Stokes as an out and out 4th pace bowler, but he has bowled well on Tour so far and he certainly can bat.  I really hope he does well as I would very much like to see him a permanent fixture.  He absolutely could be a superstar.  But also, he could be very much one that never fulfills his potential.  Potential, he has in spades!

This team looks fine and will surely be enough to see off a weakened West Indies (not sure Gayle and Dwayne Bravo are seriously in their plans but they will be fulfilling their obligations in India – England are only missing…..well….Ravi Bopara!), but for me the main problem with Trott and Ballance filling in is that it makes the top order rather….dull.  Alistair Dull opening with Jonathan Boring, Gary Steady at 3 and Ian and Joe Slightly-Less-Dull at 4 and 5.  We have to wait for 6 and 7 before Ben Strong-Arm and Jos Explosion are seen, but by then, we could be 200-4 when the second new ball is being taken.  No problems in the Caribbean, but Australia will smell blood at the thought of this English conservatism.  Ho hum, it will be interesting to see how things shape up over the next five months.

Oh…and…Do we need to talk about Kevin..?  Well, yes, it does seem that he will wear an England shirt again at some stage.  I never thought that would happen and although, he should have been treated….er…differently by Mr. Downton, I still don’t think it should now.  Too many bridges have been burnt and frankly, he has hardly played much cricket since his departure from the England scene, or scored many runs.  I am not sure what the deal with Surrey this Summer is, but I fancy he won’t score that many first class runs over the next few months and hopefully that will lead to, his only return to England, being maybe in the T20 set-up.

Whoever replaces Downton has a lot of hard work ahead.  I really don’t envy him!  But for now, enjoy some Test match cricket.  While we mourn the terrible loss of Richie Benaud, I am sure he will be watching from up high, rather than what is going on in India.  As will I..!

Til the next time.  Nige.

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