Wednesday, 15 April 2015

England ahead, but opportunities missed

Wednesday, 15 April 2015
It's been a lovely few days - the sun is shining, the county season has begun, and test cricket is back as well. As much as I will lap up all forms of the game, test cricket will always be my number one. And it always feels that way for England too - this may well be part of the reason why we lag so far behind in the short forms, though this is not the time for me to delve down that road again.

That said, the conservatism found in the one day format was still present in selection as England returned to the test arena. Being a Yorkshire fan, I will freely admit that I am heavily biased in this respect, and seeing four out of six Yorkshire players in the squad wearing bibs did not make me happy. Where this tour could have been an opportunity to look at players like Lyth and Rashid, the old guard was maintained with Trott and Tredwell preferred. The arguments were of course made - Rashid having a poor Lions tour and Tredwell outshining him in the warm-up 'matches'; but it was also a man who helped bowl his side to victory in the county championship last year, and one who had to leave his county to be able to even play first class cricket. It can always be a risk selecting a legspinner - they will go for runs and they do have to be captained well - but, it just would have felt more exciting, offering that element of mystery to the side. But then I am also scarred by memories of Rashid carrying the drinks around for England for months, before returning to Yorkshire with his form lost somewhere along the way. In any case, it now looks like Moeen Ali will soon be fit and back in the side for the next match, effectively nullifying the whole issue. 

With Trott and Lyth, the situation is a bit different. Trott is an experienced and proven test performer, and like the majority of fans I was very happy to see him back in an England shirt. Still, it was a great chance to have a look at Lyth at this international level, and he is a player who would inject a bit more life into a top three often seen as rather stilted. I see the reasoning in selection, but also feel an opportunity may have been missed. Really for me, it was just tough to see Yorkshire's leading batsman of the previous year left off the teamsheet whilst they stuttered in their first innings against Worcestershire. But in any squad, there are always players who will miss out - it's just the way it has to work. It was just unfortunate that it was so many from one club, and that the tour has been crammed in and clashes with the start of the county season. The few matches of the season where all counties can have their international stars turning out have all but disappeared.  

As it was, England struggled after being sent to bat on day one. The top three all fell cheaply, and soon the score was 34/3. In stepped Ian Bell. Of course it's not so surprising these days to see such innings, but you always remember the batsman he used to be - scoring runs when the team does well, crumbling when they are in trouble; not stepping up to the occasion as he did here. Two century stands were shared - first with Joe Root (83) and then Ben Stokes, playing a fine attacking innings of 79 on his return to the side. And England had dug themselves out of a hole, from a first session where the West Indies dominated to afternoon and evening sessions where the run rate reached four and at times five an over. When Bell was dismissed by an absolute jaffa from Kemar Roach with just an over left on the first day, the score was 341/5. The recovery had been made, and as ever with Bell it was simply lovely to watch.  

Naturally, England didn't make the most of this position. The decision to send in a nightwatchman was, quite frankly, bizarre - Stokes played out the last over, and rather than having Jos Buttler starting the second day, it was James Tredwell. He may have three first class centuries to his name (and I must add that, as I may be being quite harsh on him in this post!), but I certainly know who I would rather be watching. As it ended up, Buttler was dismissed for a 22-ball duck and England were all out for 399 - a good score, but another missed opportunity.

After two days though, England can count themselves as ahead in this match. West Indies find themselves at 155/4 at the close of play, lucky not to be five down - Jermaine Blackwood (30*) saved by Stokes' foot overstepping the umpire's line. The fightback has been underway though, a partnership developing with Chanderpaul (29*) after falling to 99/4 - and even at 40 years old, he remains a most prized wicket, always a challenge to dismiss. England fans and players will be eagerly hoping for more wickets for James Anderson - now only three away from passing Botham's record 383 for England, and all the while playing in his 100th test.

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