England’s batting is in a state of crisis again. After a rain-induced draw at Lord’s, Joe Root’s side floundered in a second innings score of 122, as an undermanned New Zealand breached the Edgbaston fortress.
After that famous 4-0 series win in England in 1988, the West Indies have struggled to hold their own in the overseas conditions and are yet to win a series there in more than three decades.
But they have given themselves a chance at snatching a series win in the three-match series that is currently underway after a superbly scripted though nerve-wracking four-wicket victory in Southampton.
Whether they eventually manage to win the series or fail to deceive in the end, I have to give credit where it is due – they played a great match and deserved to win. But how could England, the number four Test team in the world, manage to lose to the lowly eighth-ranked team on their own soil?
The pundits are out there dissecting the reasons. But here are three plausible reasons as to why England lost.
1. The absence of Joe Root in an inexperienced batting line-up
This is a no-brainer. Their best Test batsman of this generation was sorely missed. The moment Dom Sibley got out in the first innings without bothering the scorers, how England fans wished for Joe Root to come out and save the day.
Instead we had one inexperienced batsman after the other stride to the crease and go back in a hurry. Within no time, England were five down for 87! No disrespect to the hardworking Joe Denly, but he shares nothing in common with Root except the first name.
2. An iffy decision at the toss
In retrospect, it may be easy to blame the stand-in captain Ben Stokes for deciding to bat in overcast conditions. After the match, when he was asked if he regrets making that decision, he replied in the negative. He said that if they had batted well enough and put on a decent score, the result would have been different.
He is certainly right, especially considering how the West Indian top order struggled in the fourth-innings chase of a middling target. Had they got a slightly stiffer target, it could well have been a very different story.
However, considering the overhead conditions and an inexperienced and brittle batting line-up in the absence of their talismanic captain Joe Root, Stokes could have asked West Indies to bat. With the pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood, along with the wily James Anderson’s swing and Stokes’ own versatility with the ball, they could have put the West Indies under enormous pressure from Day 1.
With the pitch not expected to deteriorate, batting in the fourth innings should not have been a problem. In retrospect, he did make an error of judgment in exposing his brittle top order against a good bowling unit in bowler-friendly conditions.
3. Missed chances in the field
Neither side wrapped themselves in glory when it came to ground fielding and catching. There were no balls galore, especially at crucial moments on wicket-taking deliveries. It did not help that the home umpires failed to spot no balls on a regular basis, allowing the bowlers to be caught off guard when they were found to be no-balling at crucial moments.
However, it was the home team that made more errors on the field, and especially during the fourth innings, when the match was in the balance, and possibly with the advantage to England. The West Indies, while chasing a middling target of 200, were put under serious pressure when they lost their first three wickets with just 27 on the scorecard, and their opening batsman John Campbell retired hurt.
The English bowlers – led by a superb Archer – were on fire, with both Roston Chase and Jermaine Blackwood trying to steady the innings.
With the score on 42, Ben Stokes at slip decided to move to his right in anticipation of a shot from Blackwood, only to realise that the catch came straight to where he was a fraction of a second ago. Had he stayed his ground, it would have been a straight forward catch. Blackwood was on five then. He went on to add 90 more.
That was not the only chance fluffed by England. Jos Buttler missed a rather straight forward chance when he failed to react in time and missed a catch on the leg side. The bowler this time was captain Stokes and Blackwood was again the fortunate batsman, and had still not reached 30.
There were some run-out chances missed, notably by Zak Crawley to run out Blackwood before he had reached 50.
Had England been a little tidier in the field, and supported their bowlers well, it could well have been England who could have scripted a come-from-behind victory.