By Sanjay Myers, Jamaica Observer,
Visitors West Indies were given only an outside chance against higher ranked England in three Tests.
After all, England are formidable at home, and have not lost a Test series on English soil to the Caribbean side since 1988.
The hosts duly wrapped up a come-from-behind 2-1 series victory on Tuesday after proving their superiority, particularly in the batting department, in the 269-run stroll in the decisive third match at Old Trafford in Manchester.
While England made 369 and 226-2 declared, West Indies were bundled over for 197 and 129.
West Indies batting meltdowns are not unfamiliar these days. Statistically, the touring party featured the West Indies cricket team’s weakest batting line-up in several decades. Not one batsman has a Test career average of over 35.
Conversely, most players in the England top order average either close to 40 or above. England’s top batsman, Captain Joe Root, averages 48.3.
In six innings the Caribbean men reached 300 only once — in the opening innings of the first Test, which they stunningly won by four wickets. That dogged determination was not replicated for the remaining Tests, and there ended the visiting team’s surprise party.
Furthermore, while West Indies players combined for eight individual half-centuries — Jermaine Blackwood, Shamarh Brooks and Kraigg Brathwaite scored two each — no one went on to score a hundred. Blackwood (35.16) and Brooks (32.5) were the only West Indians to average over 30 in the series.
Sir Clive Lloyd, the iconic former West Indies captain, lamented the brittle batting when he spoke to the Jamaica Observer on Tuesday.
“Our bowlers were good in stages, but our batting has got to improve. They’ve got to be more consistent — the batting was really dismal this series.
“Our batting has been letting us down. We are playing guys who are failing all the time, so they probably don’t think their position is threatened,” the 75-year-old said during a telephone interview from his residence in England.
“They can’t just sit on their hands, they’ve got to improve… the whole West Indies [supporters] were right behind them when they won the first Test match. I don’t know if it’s complacency or what. You just can’t have guys getting to 40 and 50 and don’t carry on. You have to learn to bat at least a day and a half to get to a score that can put you in the ascendancy. We haven’t been able to do that consistently,” Lloyd, who won 36 of 74 Tests as skipper, continued.
Many argue that to make matters worse the visitors blundered in their team selection and strategy.
Against the backdrop of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the series was contested behind closed doors in a biosecure environment to reduce the risk of transmission.
The three matches — the first at The Ageas Bowl in Southampton and the other two at Old Trafford — were played in quick succession, with only three days’ break in between.
West Indies had replacement options in their main 15-man squad, and a secondary group of 10 reserve players.
England rotated their quick bowlers, and it paid off in the second and third matches as they gave focused and energetic performances.
West Indies stuck with main seamers Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and Captain Jason Holder for all three Tests.
Exceedingly relentless and disciplined as a group in Southampton, they were much the opposite in Manchester, lacking sharpness for significant periods.
Gabriel, who was terrific in his nine-wicket haul in the first Test after only recently recovering from ankle surgery, could not be faulted for effort. But while maintaining high pace in the remaining matches, he at times bowled wayward lines.
Promising pacer Alzarri Joseph played the first two Tests, but was hampered by a right-arm niggle in the second match before he was left out for the series finale.
Bizarrely, fast bowler Chemar Holder, another rising regional talent, was not given his debut, though he was sensational in last season’s domestic first-class championship, grabbing 36 wickets at 18.91.
When West Indies did change personnel, it was burly off spinner Rahkeem Cornwall who went in for Joseph.
Some found that decision perplexing, given that the usually damp and cold Old Trafford venue traditionally favours seamers, and West Indies already had a spin option in the batting all-rounder Roston Chase.
And though arming themselves with two spinners, they won the toss and chose to bowl first instead of giving their slow bowlers the chance to get at England towards the back end of the match when the pitch would have been worn.
“I don’t know how fit they were. They won the first match and people had given us a [chance], but if you are going to insert the opposition you have to make sure that your bowlers are fit. I don’t know what sort of fitness tests they had…[if they had] put them through their paces to make sure they will last five days.
“I thought they should have probably tried batting first and they might have been in a better position,” Lloyd, who led the regional side to Cricket World Cup titles in 1975 and 1979, told the Observer.
“They have to make more runs anyway — that is the whole thing about it. They are not making enough runs; these guys are averaging in the 20s and that’s telling the opposition that you can’t bat long. And they [England] have been putting pressure on them and they’ve been capitulating under the pressure,” he reiterated.
Main photo: West Indies’ Shai Hope reacts after being bowled by England’s Stuart Broad for 7 during play on the final day of the second Test cricket match at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England, in this July 20, 2020 file photo. (Photo: AFP)