It is becoming increasingly apparent why this is called the red-ball reset. England start, the gameplan falls apart, they reset, it gets a little better. Maybe they will get away with it against the West Indies, who may need a reset themselves.
Hard to see how this would work against any nation of relative strength, though. England’s 10 overs with the new ball before lunch, the stretch that was to usher in the era post-Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, remember, must rank as one of the poorest spells of bowling of the Joe Root era.
The fact that, by tea, all four seamers that had been picked in the place of England’s veterans had taken a wicket was as much to do with some typically inconsistent West Indian batting as any leap forward.
England’s reset strived to find out if Chris Woakes could be the opening bowler they need
It was, to begin with, comically bad. Chris Woakes bowled three overs and offered up 23 runs; Jack Leach, the spinner, was on within nine overs; and West Indies were 44 without loss, four short of England’s fourth-wicket total on Tuesday.
At that stage, it looked not so much a reset as a trip in a Friday car. One of those models you pick up new from the garage and the warning light starts flashing on the way home. You take it back, they have it a week, the same things happen. The service department exchange knowing looks.
This one was obviously thrown together in a rush before the hooter sounded on Friday. You’ll have nothing but trouble. I had a Range Rover like that once. Four tailgates. By the end, I’d have reset it at midnight off Beachy Head if I could.
Anyway, back to English cricket’s reset which on Wednesday strived to find out if a man who has taken less than a quarter of his wickets abroad, could be the opening bowler England needed in the West Indies.
But he could not, after bowling three overs and offering up 23 runs in a comically bad start
Turns out — don’t hold your breath — he couldn’t. Woakes did eventually get among the wickets when Jermaine Blackwood was caught by Craig Overton off what proved the last ball before tea, meaning West Indies had lost four wickets for 44 runs, having rushed to 83 without loss, but it is hard to erase the memory of the reset’s first flickerings.
England were dreadful, as they were opening up with the bat on Tuesday. Not sluggish, or sloppy, just embarrassingly poor. They didn’t beat the bat, they didn’t get it to move, they didn’t put pressure on the batsmen, they didn’t keep the score down.
Kraigg Brathwaite — whose first name is often mischievously misspelled as ‘Krab’ by smart alecks due to the slowness of his play — would go on to make the fastest 50 of his career. It came off just 62 balls, beating the previous boundary-fest by eight.
At one stage, he swiped Leach for six. It felt a bit like seeing Chris Tavare dancing down the pitch. By the time the first wicket had fallen after 63 balls, the West Indies had made their biggest opening partnership since January 2019.
Woakes did eventually get among the wickets but it is hard to erase the memory of the reset’s first flickerings
So while it of course matters where the innings ended up, and England’s bowling certainly improved as the day wore on, this match, this tour, was supposedly about addressing what happens at the start of England’s innings’ in the field. Meaning the first 19 wicketless, largely listless, overs matter.
This is a West Indian team that has struggled desperately with the bat of late. That has made a single score of more than 300 in their previous 16 innings. So, faced with 311 all-out from England, they would be feeling the pressure.
England could not have made it simpler for them. Every bowler chucks down the odd loosener. England delivered 60 balls of them. Woakes has an average of 55 away and it showed.
The generous take is that Broad and Anderson were used so much, he could only pick up scraps, yet there seemed a deeper problem here. The responsibility did not sit well. He bowled tamely.
The generous take is that Stuart Broad (L) and Jimmy Anderson (R) were used so much, he could only pick up scraps
Ten runs came off his second over, including two boundaries from opener John Campbell, clubbed through mid-wicket. With nine off Woakes’ third over, Root had seen enough. He switched Overton’s end, and brought on Mark Wood. Then he took off Overton and introduced Leach.
After lunch, he tried Woakes from a different end and his first ball went for four. His first 10 overs yielded 51. That’s not acceptable at Test level, and certainly not against a batting line-up as frail as the West Indies.
What might Anderson and Broad have made of it? Depends on whether they want back in or not. Anderson recently said he will use his time away to try to show people what he can do with the ball in his hand, and it is ironic in the extreme that such a talent should be thinking of doing auditions, having seen those awarded the lead roles.
Mark Wood bowled well, with pace and reverse swing, but he would have been included in any starting line-up even with Broad and Anderson. Now he is staying fit for England, Wood is pretty much an automatic selection. Overton was solid too; and Leach bowled an impressive succession of maidens.
There remains a feeling, however, that there is a better bowling line-up sitting at home
The bottom line here, really, is that in recent years England have found winning cricket matches hard enough as it is.
The disruptions to the fixture calendar, Covid bubbles at home and on tour, and player rotation and injury have all taken a toll. They have our sympathy, if not the medals interim coach Paul Collingwood would have handed out after getting thrashed in Australia.
Yet, try to meet us half-way. At least pick the best players. This England team may yet achieve their first win in Antigua because the West Indies cricket team is as changeable as this island’s weather.
There remains a feeling, however, that there is a better bowling line-up sitting at home, wondering what exactly they did wrong. For if this was an England team bowling the new ball to the captain’s plan, it makes one wonder exactly what fag packet it was written on.