England give Alastair Cook cause for optimism despite Bridgetown blues

Cook And England Cricket

West Indies more than deserved their Bridgetown win, a famous one at that, for they have been rare in recent times.

When it mattered England fell short, not so much with the ball as with the bat, particularly in the first innings when they had the opportunity to make safe their lead in the series.

By the third day the pitch had lost some of its teeth, certainly in terms of pace, and Moeen Ali, the frontline spinner, was unable to produce anything like his bowling of last summer when he dismissed some of the best players of spin in the world. Even then England might have won had Jos Buttler executed a crucial stumping that would have seen West Indies five wickets down and still 105 runs short. Put England in that position and nails would have been bitten; West Indies would have been no different.

There is real hope for the Caribbean, though. This was a West Indies side that was tenacious throughout and one in the eye not just for Colin Graves but for those (mea culpa) who thought Jimmy Anderson had blown a hole in their resistance on the last day in Grenada. They have an experienced new coach in Phil Simmons and a young side that no longer relies on the play-as-you-please types, Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo. They are most obviously better off without them. The shame is that Joel Garner lost his bid to oust Dave Cameron as board president, duped apparently by promises of loyalty from other islands that failed to materialise. A vote for Garner is a vote against Jamaica was a common theme. There will still be battles on that front.

Nonetheless the expectation was that England would win the series and that they should not have let slip the lead they held going into the third Test. They will return (some of them to use Gatwick as transit to Ireland – such is the way of international scheduling these days) having shared the series but the nature of the inquests, naturally, do not reflect it.

This, though, is still a transitional stage in the development of the England team in all forms of the game. Despite everything they had won four out of the previous five Tests since losing to India at Lord’s, and the assertion of Peter Moores that progress is being made is not wrong: Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Moeen (a maverick still but talented), Alastair Cook’s gradual return to more prolific scoring (five half-centuries and one century in his past nine innings), the introduction of Buttler. These are all good things that have happened. In this series alone centuries have been scored by Cook, Ballance, Root and Ian Bell, each of them an innings of high quality, although Bell subsequently went off the boil and finished with a pair.

The bowling, though, is more of a concern. Jimmy Anderson has been outstanding and now has been adjudged man of the series in the last three he has played. To flog 17 wickets out of the pitches here has taken skill and true drive never better exemplified than by the manner in which he seized control of the Grenada Test.

The backing, though, has not been nearly effective enough. Stuart Broad bowled the occasional testing spell but was inconsistent in his pace and, while Chris Jordan is improving, evidenced by a smoother run and a good high action that is bringing him control, he needs to find penetration. Ben Stokes, as Paul Farbrace has said, is a batsman who bowls, used more as a partnership breaker and certainly not good enough to be a reliable third seamer.

Those who clamoured loudest for the inclusion of Adil Rashid were certainly not among those who watched him bowl in the warm-ups in St Kitts. A colleague has offered the opinion that he bowled “no worse than Moeen has done”, but that is hardly a ringing endorsement.

The inclusion of Jonathan Trott, however, was a crash waiting to happen. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that whatever demons haunted him 18 months ago have returned, but the technical manner in which he has approached his batting has been a world away from an apparently placid demeanour.

Shannon Gabriel’s dismissal of him in the first innings in Barbados told a horrible tale so that when he walked from the pitch in the second innings, he did so with an almost jaunty air before running up the steps. It was as if he felt, in that moment, a weight coming off his shoulders that there would be no more. Moores insists that Trott’s hard work and runs had earned him a place in the squad and that they needed to find out whether they still had a very experienced batsman to pick in the future. Regrettably they have their answer.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Mike Selvey in Bridgetown, for The Guardian on Monday 4th May 2015 19.05 Europe/London

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