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England Clutch a Tied Series from the Jaws of Victory

When England do bad sessions, they do it in spectacular style!  In only their third Test Series in a year, for the second time they threw away a Series’ victory in the blink of an eye, or rather in two horrible sessions.  A year ago, when Sri Lanka visited England for what is now a regular feature in the England Test calendar, where a ‘lesser’ Test team comes for a short Test Series as a prelude for the main Summer event (as New Zealand do this year to warm the nation up for the Ashes that begins in July) and were expected to succumb to those unpleasant early Summer English conditions, England dominated the two Test Series, only to lose it 1-0 thanks to a horrible collapse on the 4th afternoon of an energy sapping Series that filled all ten scheduled days.  Here in the West Indies, whilst we didn’t lose the Series, we blew the expected victory away with yet another horrible collapse, this time on the second evening session.  With a tidy lead of 68 (feeling substantial based on the low scoring nature of the game), England capitulated in the last session of the 2nd day to 39-5 when Moeen Ali played a tired and lazy shot and played on to his stumps from Permaul.  There really was no coming back from that.

On the 3rd day, the West Indies made relatively short work of chasing 192 on a pitch that held no real terrors.  For a Series where England dominated a good percentage of the sessions, they fly home knowing they tied a Series 1-1 they should have won quite comfortably.  In Antigua, they were denied by a stubborn West Indian middle order, a 55-ball unbreakable Kemar Roach innings, a fantastically talented Jason Holder who scored his first ever first class century and a vaguely bland pitch, in a game they pretty much owned once Ian Bell and Joe Root put on 177 on the first afternoon.  It was a commendable effort from the West Indies, but England were disappointed not to win and once again, were shown up to not have a top class spinner, no matter how creditable James Tredwell’s efforts were.

In Grenada, England put their disappointments aside and played a strong game to win by 9 wickets with most of the last session to spare, after an inspired last day performance.  After conceding a first innings lead of 165, thanks to a masterclass from the immensely talented and exciting 23-year-old Joe Root who scored 182 not out, Kraigg Brathwaite hit a very fine hundred of his own to give his side a lead at the end of the 4th day with only 2 wickets down.  On another placid-ish pitch, England’s fine attack lifted themselves to roll over the last 8 wickets for just 100 runs and leave themselves plenty of overs to knock off the 144 they needed.  Mike Atherton summed up the England bowling figures, saying Jimmy Anderson’s 4-43 in no way flattered him, whereas Moeen Ali’s 3-51 flattered him….. a little.

It was a fine game for England and as Jimmy ripped through the Windies’ top order in their first innings of the Final Test, there was every expectation that we were on our way to a comfortable 2-0 Series win which would verify our Test standings and put us in good shape for the tough Summer ahead.  But Jermaine Blackwood had other ideas as his defying 88 reduced our lead and the rest is history with him joining Bravo to bring victory home and a well deserved share of the spoils.

The West Indies can be very proud of this Series.  Brathwaite, Bravo, Samuels, Blackwood, Holder, Gabriel and Taylor are fine cricketers and with the right support from the team, the management and the “nation”, they are on the right track and will at least compete with most sides in Test match cricket, especially at home.  But the fact is, England’s frailties cost them the win here and it is hard to see anything but a tough Summer ahead.

Jonathan Trott announced his retirement yesterday and I struggle to understand why he played the last Test, if any at all.  He looked completely out of sorts, from the latter warm-up game, throughout the Test Series.  Indeed, the fifty he scored in Grenada was ropey at best and an inside edge that missed his off stump by a whisker in that innings, could have left him an average for the Series in single figures.  Surely the England management should have recognised that he was never in a position to compete for his place and you have to question why they did not have the courage to make the tough decisions or maybe they just didn’t have the nous to realise he was not up to the task.  Either way, it was yet another poor display of a poorly ran outfit.  At the very least, Lythe should have played that last Test and maybe the outcome of that game might have been different.  It would have certainly been nice to have a look at him before our Summer kicks in.

I also thought James Tredwell was poorly treated.  He was clearly labelled to fill in for Moeen Ali for that first Test and even though he did well, he was immediately outcast once Ali returned.  As an aside, I still protest his exclusion from the ODI side in the World Cup (not that he would have made too much difference to our fate).  Moeen is a fine cricketer and is doing a fine job, but he did not have a good Series once he got back in the team and it is time we found a proper spinner and invested time and management into that person.  Trouble is, you can’t deny the pickings are slim!

As for the rest of the team, most had a good time of things.  Jimmy Anderson had a fantastic Series, capped by breaking the English total Test wickets record (pictured above).  As he approaches his 33rd birthday, all England fans must be hoping he still fancies a few more years yet.  Captain Cook looked in welcome form too and finally got his 26th Test ton and Ballance, Bell and Root also all had their moments.

As for the rest, I was more interested as to how Stokes, Jordan and Buttler would do and they all did okay.  I am sure Buttler will be England’s keeper for some time to come and whilst he didn’t get any big scores, he played with confidence and assurity which was encouraging.  He should not be batting at No.8 and that brings me on to Stokes.  He is a bit of a luxury at 7 and, whilst he had a couple of decent spells with the ball (particularly on the slow Antigua wicket), he rather faded as the Series wore on and his range deteriorated and was used less and less by Cook.  I still like him a lot and is seriously talented, but I am just not sure how he fits into the team going forward unless he improves his bowling notably.  Currently Woakes is probably the better bowler and fits nicely in at 8, allowing Buttler back to 7.

So, what about Chris Jordan..?  Well, I think he is a must for this Summer.  He lacks a little bit of pace, but makes up with it with movement and accuracy; he can hold a bat and is a tremendous fielder, with amazing hands in the slips.  His four catches off the spin bowlers were incredible and such are his reactions, he can stand closer and even move around in anticipation.  He is a very talented young man and I hope for the best for him.

Early thoughts as to the side that runs out at Lord’s for the First Test against NZ..?  Well, we will be conservative as always and it seems Lythe is next on the list to partner Cook and Woakes will replace Stokes.  Personally, I would like Alex Hales included into the fold somehow.  He has been tearing it up for Notts already this season and we need a bit of flair and aggression at the top of the order.  Then of course there are those dreaded initials still in the air…. K and P..!  Enough for now, plenty of other articles to come to consider all this…

Finally to Moores and he remains at the helm.  Sadly, a 1-1 tied Series wasn’t enough humiliation to oust him from the make-up and I fancy he will quit after a rather unpleasant Summer and an Ashes defeat.  ….Just sayin’…

Til then.

Nige.

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