Well, that didn’t exactly go to plan. England lost their first Test of 2019 on its second day, when they collapsed to 77 all out. Their misery was compounded by the West Indies setting over 600 to win and Jason Holder hitting an unbeaten double century. Another batting collapse then reared its ugly head as England lost 9 wickets in a session to give the Barbados crowd a dream start to their new year. In truth, though, they simply never recovered from the initial West Indian onslaught.
It all makes for pretty grim reading, considering we tipped this as a crucial series that could kick-start one of the best years to be an England Cricket fan. Not that it won’t still be; England have had plenty of shaky starts to otherwise excellent years and there’s plenty of time to turn things around.
Despite the obvious negatives, we’ll do our best to dissect the past four days here and not to get too downbeat. We just won’t linger for too long on the first innings.
Rather than leave a paragraph at the end of an otherwise England-exclusive piece, it seems only right that we acknowledge our hosts’ performance in this first Test from the outset. Kemar Roach spearheaded an attack that constantly threatened and troubled a batting line-up littered with talent and Holder, Hetmyer, and Dowrich put the English bowlers well and truly on the back foot.
Most of us will be extremely disappointed with how this year has started, but it’s good to see such a competitive West Indies side so desperate to perform on the biggest stage of all. While Gayle, Russell, Brathwaite, and others compete in franchise tournaments around the world, it is encouraging to know that the five-day game remains alive and kicking in the Caribbean. Jason Holder is doing an excellent job with that side, and it seems that his work unifying the team and fostering a more positive culture is beginning to pay dividends. Of course this is nothing close to emulating the 1970s, but the general mood seems a lot brighter than it has been recently.
Make no mistake about it; England are going to have to play extremely well to turn this around. It’s a challenge, and they will get a lot out of the rest of the series whatever the result.
England bowled well in this game. That might seem like an odd statement at first, considering they conceded a lead of 600 + and went a whole day without taking a wicket in the second innings. Consider, though, the first part of that innings. Moeen Ali threatened, while Ben Stokes (excellent throughout) bowled with controlled hostility. Add into the equation Jimmy Anderson’s first-innings five-for, and there’s plenty for England fans to feel optimistic about.
Yes, the bowlers tired, but that’s to be expected. They need more than 77 to play with, both in terms of physical and mental recovery. The ease with which Holder took apart England’s attack can be attributed largely to that lack of any meaningful break. He and Dowrich played extremely well, but it was clear that the bowlers were suffering long before any milestones were reached.
Granted, both Sam Curran and Adil Rashid struggled a little in this game, and England seemed to miss the pace and bounce of Stuart Broad. Provided the track looks to be similar in Antigua, expect a recall for the veteran. Overall, however, it’s important that the bowlers don’t look too much into this game or get too downbeat. They have clearly demonstrated their ability to take wickets on this tour and that bodes well for the next two Tests.
It’s harder to be too positive about this particular discipline. 77 all out, although not exactly typical, won’t surprise that many England fans. This side has a habit of collapsing, and in both innings wickets were lost in clusters. That habit needs to be kicked. Desperately. All sides face tricky spells in Test cricket and the opposition will be all over you at times. It’s essential that you know how to get through those periods.
The biggest positive must be Rory Burns’ second-innings runs. Despite his unorthodox technique, he looked exceptionally solid against the quicker bowlers, and before he inexplicably missed a straight one from Roston Chase things were looking up. Burns and Bairstow batted well together, and if he can continue to apply himself in the same way in his next 4 innings, he should have a good tour.
Perhaps the greatest cause for optimism is that England have had a look at the West Indies now. They’ve been shaken up, yes, but they’ll no doubt prepare better for Antingua. No, they shouldn’t have to be skittled for under 100 to prepare properly, but there’s no point in dwelling on what went wrong. Acknowledge it, learn from it? Definitely. An ‘inquest’, though, is not what’s needed now.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but England now have the benefit of knowing how the Windies will approach this series. Another quick pitch in Antigua seems inevitable, with the success it brought the hosts in Barbados, so Stuart Broad will surely come in. He’s in excellent form on the moment and clearly feels good about his bowling. Having shortened his run-up, he’s trying to be as economical as he can in terms of energy output, and it seems that he’s reaping the rewards.
The most likely change in XI will see Adil Rashid drop out for Stuart Broad. The leg-spinner didn’t add much to the attack in the first Test, while England clearly missed their 433-wicket man. Other options include Broad replacing Curran, or Mark Wood coming in to match the four-pronged attack of the home side. A bottom 4 of Foakes, Broad, Wood, Anderson is clearly weaker from a batting perspective, but it could be just what Joe Root’s side needs.
It seems more likely that Curran will retain his place, with Broad for Rashid the only change. As mentioned already, this is not the time to panic. There will be those calling for 6 changes and a recall for Paul Collingwood but the only change that really matters is not to do with selection at all. Instead, a change in preparation and mindset will give England the best chance of turning this one around.
Off the field we were involved numerous action-packed events hosted by our new partners, Lashings. We kicked off with a fundraiser for Lord's Taverners featuring one of the newer radio pundits on the scene, Barmy favourite Matt Prior, plus of course Billy ‘The Trumpet' Cooper. Following on from that (something some thought Jason Holder should have enforced) we inducted the dazzler himself, Darren Gough, into the Barmy Army Hall of Fame on a balmy (see what we did there) roof terrace at our Dive Bar HQ. Last but not least, we returned to the legendary Harbour Lights night club for an evening in the company of Super Steve ‘Harmy’ Harrison and Tino 'Mind the Windows' Best.
We now move on to Antigua, where prising people away from their all-Inclusive bar is understandably a challenge, but with cricket's newest Knight of the Realm joining Aggers in the media box we might see if we can do something extra-special during our stay …
This result has thrown many a prediction out the window already. The only thing that seems safe to bet on is an England response. That’s not to say an England win, but they will come back and perform better as they always do after a result like this.
Let’s hope they can do enough to level the series and head to St Lucia with everything to play for.