Cricket

England's batting woes exposed in West Indies

2019-02-03 17:39
Joe Root (Getty)

London - England's lack of top-order runs finally caught up with them during a spectacular series loss in the West Indies.

A colossal 381-run defeat in the first Test in Barbados was followed by Saturday's 10-wicket thumping in Antigua where, in a reversal of cricket stereotypes, the West Indies grafted hard for their runs while England produced yet another 'calypso collapso' display.

No one better exemplified the difference than West Indies batsman Darren Bravo, whose 331-minute fifty, spanning 215 balls on a lively Antigua pitch, was the third slowest Test half-century in terms of time.

By contrast, England's second-innings 132 lasted only 38 more balls more than it took Bravo to get to fifty.

Prior to arriving in the Caribbean, the all-rounders in England's XI repeatedly bailed them out of top-order collapses in a home series win over India before they won away to a weak Sri Lanka.

Yet only once in seven home Tests in 2018 season did England reach the benchmark total of 400 and not once in Sri Lanka did they make 350.

As for the ongoing series in the Caribbean, with next week's third and final Test in St Lucia to come, England's meagre scores of 77, 246, 187 and 132 have left their bowlers with an all-but impossible task.

Too often the England top-order's response to challenging bowling has been to try to hit their way out of trouble in the manner that has made them one of the favourites for this year's 50-over World Cup on home soil.

England captain Joe Root, speaking after losing in Antigua with more than two days to spare, admitted: "Scoring under 200 in both innings isn't going to win you many games of cricket."

Yet for all Root grew up in Yorkshire, where cussed defensive skills made a local hero out of England opening great Geoffrey Boycott, he refused to read the riot act to his batsmen -- in public anyway.

"I think we have got to be better at what we do, or maybe do things slightly differently. The choice comes down to the individual," he said.

Root is the only member of England's top six with a Test batting average over 40.

By contrast the decision of Alastair Cook, their all-time leading Test run-scorer, to retire from international duty at the end of the 2018 season was the latest example in recent years of a batsman averaging over 40 departing the England scene.

"The skill of Test match batting is adapting your game plan to suit the pitch," wrote Cook in his Sunday Times column.

"Batting for time, making the opposition bowlers come to them -- that was surely the way to go last night," the former England captain added.

Nasser Hussain, Cook's Essex and England predecessor, believes the structure of English county cricket is working against the development of top-order batsmen.

"The red-ball game is being played predominantly in April and May, and then right at the end of the summer, on spicy pitches with a Duke's ball," Hussain told Sky Sports.

"We have a fundamental problem in England in that we are not producing top-quality number three batsmen. We are not producing a batsman who can play that innings that Darren Bravo played for Windies."

Hussain added: "England haven't won previous series because of their batting line-up, they've won despite of it.

"You can have as long a batting line-up as you want but if you've not got fundamental batting skills of seeing off the new ball, of batting long, you will struggle."

Another issue, not just for England, is the modern lack of warm-up fixtures either before or during a series in which players can adjust to local conditions -- a key aspect of Test cricket.

Tests have traditionally been a matter solely for the two teams involved and host boards have often been accused of providing weak tour opponents in order to maximise home advantage.

Yet Cricket West Indies offered England a first-class warm-up game against a good Board XI only for the tourists to decide two two-day practice matches were adequate preparation.

This year, however, sees the launch of the International Cricket Council's World Test Championship and Clive Lloyd, the captain of the hugely successful West Indies side of the mid-1970s and early 1980s, believes the global governing body should insist on proper warm-up fixtures to preserve the status of their pinnacle format.

"I'm saying to the ICC if they want to improve Test cricket we have to play more of these warm-up games," Lloyd told the Cricketer magazine.

"Tests are finishing in three and four days and that is because some of the players are ill-prepared."

 

Read more on:    england  |  west indies  |  joe root  |  cricket

 

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