England in the Caribbean – 25th January 2019

There has to be something wrong with either the pitch or the batting on an 18-wicket day of Test cricket, you would think. Surely? England were were bowled out for 77 and the West Indies stumbled to 127-6 by the close.

“It’s still a very good pitch,” admitted Moeen Ali after the day’s play. “Batsmen have been able to score runs and there’s been something in it for the bowlers…”

He was right. The West Indian batsmen have been able to score runs and there was plenty in the pitch for the West Indian bowlers. Plenty.

Given an ‘easy out’ for England’s embarrassing demise by suggesting it was a brilliant bowling display rather than a pitiful batting performance, Mo only partially accepted it: “The West Indies bowlers deserve a lot of credit for what they did but we also take responsibility for the way we batted. There were some poor decisions made and now we need to make up for them.”

So, is there a way back? Trailing by 339 runs and still four wickets to claim before the fourth innings run chase can begin. The highest total ever chased at the Kensington Oval is 311 by the West Indies against Australia in 1999 when Brian Lara made a majestic 153*. Can England really chase close to 400? Mo doesn’t often mince his words but, when he does, the truth is clear.

“We’ll have to bat very, very well. But first we have to bowl very well in the morning. The runs they have on the board, you know, actually we’re just going to have to do everything very well to have a chance. But we’ll give it our best…”

One of the many huge cruise liners which frequent Barbados on a near-daily basis just happened to pulling out of the harbour as England’s final wicket fell. It felt symbolic of their chances of adding to their eight out of the last nine Test victories. You can’t see the Norway Queen clearly in my amateur photograph from the fourth floor but at least, for those who have never been to the Kensington Oval, it gives you an idea of the view. And of how close you’ll be to the home of West Indies cricket should you ever decide to travel here by boat to sample the atmosphere.

 

On a pitch ideal for tall fast bowlers, talk of Stuart Broad’s admission from England’s starting XI has become incessant, especially after such a calamitous day for the tourists. It has nothing to do with retrospect. It was impossible to find a dissenting voice (other than Joe Root) before the Test match started – Broad should have played. And yet, as my dear TalkSport colleague Darren Gough said after today’s play: “Funny how everyone’s talking more than ever about our bowling attack when we’ve just been dismissed for 77.”

Speaking of Broad. The English press do like a distraction in times of drama or crisis. According to several newspapers this morning, he was forced to change hotel rooms the night before the Test having been ravaged by “bed bugs”. And then, apparently, had spent today playing golf in protest at his omission. Both stories were spectacularly inaccurate.

Broad had unwisely left the bedroom window open overnight at the team’s luxury, five-star hotel and suffered an invasion of peckish, green midges. Apparently, there are polite notices in every room suggesting that windows are best left closed at night. The fully booked hotel did well to find him a different room.

And the day off, according to Broad himself, “was always planned from the when the team was chosen. It’s a non-story.”

There is already plenty of re-grouping to be done by England, and substantially more if and when they lose the first Test.

The West Indies are, and should be, smiling broadly. Excuse the pun. They have out-batted, out-bowled and out-selected their visitors in a monumental way. So far.

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