9th August 2020

Environment ‘Don’t let Broad debate mask England errors’ – Agnew column

Environment ‘Don’t let Broad debate mask England errors’ – Agnew column


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Blackwood’s 95 helps propel West Indies to victory in first Test

The debate surrounding England’s fascinating four-wicket defeat by West Indies in the first Test in Southampton will centre on the home side’s decision to omit Stuart Broad.

Clearly, Broad’s absence was a factor, because I do not believe England chose their strongest side given the conditions.

If he had been playing, England may well have taken the chance to bowl first in murky weather on Wednesday, and subsequently gone on to win.

However, they are all ifs, buts and maybes, so we must make a judgement from what we have seen on the field.

England were 204 all out in the first innings, lost five wickets for 30 runs in the second, and missed four opportunities to take wickets on the final afternoon.

That first-innings return was not enough. Given West Indies’ margin of victory, England may only have needed another 70 or 80 runs to have run out as victors.

At the time, the total was hard to assess, because England were dodging showers and feeling their way back after the coronavirus lay-off.

But West Indies showed it to be inadequate by the way they were willing to knuckle down and grind out a sizable lead.

Even then, England could have got out of jail by taking their chances on Sunday. Of those missed, wicketkeeper Jos Buttler’s leg-side drop of Jermaine Blackwood and Zak Crawley’s fluffed attempt at a run-out are particularly hard to explain.

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‘Missed chances story of England’s defeat’ – Vaughan

Reprieved, Blackwood reined in his game to play an innings of remarkable discipline, helping West Indies to the type of win over England that is becoming a bit of a habit.

We should not be surprised they have pulled this off. This is not the team that England beat with regularity 10 or 15 years ago.

They showed at Headingley in 2017, and again in the Caribbean at the beginning of 2019 that they are a very fine team. Perhaps the only people that need convincing of that are their own supporters.

West Indies are focused. They have a terrific set of fast bowlers and batsmen who can be flamboyant but are also willing to graft.

Remember, they have come here without Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer, two key men in their middle order.

Not only that, but they faced the uncertainty of travelling from the Caribbean, which compared to the UK has been relatively unaffected by coronavirus.

They had to quarantine for weeks, unable to set foot outside the Emirates Old Trafford ground, with only each other for company and nets to keep them occupied.

That West Indies were then able to turn up in Southampton and deliver a performance of such professionalism speaks volumes for the way they are led by captain Jason Holder and coach Phil Simmons.

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‘That’s the wicket’ – Archer bouncer removes Chase to break concerning partnership

Might things have been different if England were able to feed off a home crowd on Sunday afternoon? With the Barmy Army shouting, and fans willing England to take wickets, they may well have been inspired.

Still, it is fair to say that both sides were able to produce some quality cricket in an empty ground, which is a big tick for the bio-secure environment.

Administrators around the world will be looking at this wondering if it is something they should replicate. The answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

If they did not know it before, England will now realise they are going to have to play very well to beat West Indies, and the series can only be won if they take both of the Old Trafford Tests, the first of which begins on Thursday.

Joe Root will return from his paternity leave to captain, with decisions to make over his batting line-up and the make-up of his bowling attack.

The batting one should be straightforward – I fully expect Crawley to keep his place and Joe Denly to be moved on.

However, the bowlers are going to be more ticklish for Root.

It is hard to say the right way to go without knowing how they will recover from this match and then seeing the pitch in Manchester.

If this was England’s best attack this week, what has changed for it not to be their best attack next week? If anything, given the fast, bouncy nature of Old Trafford, you could say there is even more justification for Mark Wood and Jofra Archer to play.

Just because Broad has got angry and ruffled a few feathers, do England therefore say “actually, you’re right, you’re back in the team”? If Wood and Archer is the route they want to take, they should stick with it.

Whichever team England take the field, they know they will come up against stubborn opposition, and they have improvements to make.

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport’s Stephan Shemilt.


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