England Must Improve On Rusty First Test Display

England were completely outplayed by the West Indies in the first test at the Ageas Bowl.

They were comprehensively out-batted and out-bowled by the blokes from the Caribbean, who are four places below them in the ICC test rankings.

Ben Stokes, stepping up as captain due to the absence of Joe Root at the birth of his second child, won the toss and elected to bat first on an overcast day in Southampton.

Arguably not the best decision given days three and four were the best times for being at the crease, and which team would be able to make the most of that time?

The West Indies since they bowled first.

The first day was about as anticlimactic as a day of sport can get.

Cricket had waited 117 days to see some action, but only just over 17 overs were played due to a mixture of bad light and rain.

The good old English summer we know and love.

Dom Sibley, playing in his first home test match, was out after facing just four balls as Shannon Gabriel – who wasn’t initially in the West Indies main squad – managed to seam the ball back into the right hander.

The Warwickshire batsman’s dismissal seemed to sum up England’s first innings – they were all a bit rusty.

But it wasn’t just the players who were short of match practice, but the umpires as well.

Because of the pandemic, non-neutral umpires are being used for the first time since the start of the 2000s, and Richard Kettleborough and Richard Illingworth, arguably two of the best umpires in world cricket, had at least five decisions overturned by the West Indies in the match.

England’s batting just wasn’t up to the task of the exceptional bowling of Jason Holder and Shannon Gabriel, the former finishing with career best innings figures of 6-42.

The home side’s decision to opt for extra pace of Mark Wood and Jofra Archer rather than the experience of Stuart Broad seemed baffling, especially given the cloudy conditions for most of the match.

The extra pace didn’t work in the first innings, as Archer and Wood finished with figures of 1-135 in 44 overs, compared to the swing and seam duo of Jimmy Anderson and Stokes’ 7-111 in 39 overs.

The West Indies, especially Brathwaite and Dowrich, batted superbly with Dowrich scoring more runs in one innings than he had on the entirety of the 2017 tour to England.

Shamarh Brooks also batted well for his 39 and I think he will be key for the West Indies over the next couple of matches.

He made it look very easy against the England attack in the first innings compared to the scrappiness of Brathwaite, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a couple of fifties or maybe even a second test ton at Old Trafford.

A shout-out must go to Jermaine Blackwood who played excellently in the Windies’ second innings.

He went against his aggressive instincts until right at the very end where he couldn’t wait to reach his second test ton.

With his captain at the other end, I’m sure Holder would’ve allowed Blackwood to reach three figures.

England’s batting was much better in the second innings, although it wouldn’t be the England cricket team without a collapse somewhere.

From being in a position where they could pile on runs and draw or maybe win the match, they lost 6-64, leaving the Windies only 200 to secure victory.

At the top of the order, Burns and Sibley continued to solidify their opening partnership.

The Surrey opener was unfortunate not to reach fifty, but did give his wicket away, as did Joe Denly who I, sadly for a Kent fan, suspect will be dropped for the rest of the series.

Sibley applied himself well and reached his second score of 50+ in tests but was yet again strangled down the leg side – an area which the England bowlers themselves targeted in the warm-up match.

Zak Crawley meanwhile looks to be a brilliant prospect for England.

Fifties in consecutive tests compared to the lacklustre performances of his Kent teammate Denly, and with youth on his side, Crawley is likely to find himself up at number three for the near future.

Whilst Denly has cropped a lot of stick, mostly from Michael Vaughan, for having played 15 tests with no hundred, the same cannot be said for Jos Buttler.

A single century in 40 tests and an average of 31 is not good, yet people still talk about his promise when Ben Foakes is sitting on the sideline with a test average of over 40 and is regarded as the best wicketkeeper in the country.

It was mostly England’s batting that let them down this test match.

They were much better in the second innings as the pitch got easier for batting but surely, they would’ve all agreed to bat first anyway, despite the conditions.

Choosing to bat first suggests that they most definitely should’ve done better in the first innings, although a lot of credit must go to the West Indian bowlers, especially Holder and Gabriel.

The man of the match was indeed Shannon Gabriel after figures of 9-137 but with such a short rest period between tests, I wouldn’t be surprised his he misses one of the remaining games, especially since he had only just recovered from injury.

The same goes to Archer and Wood.

I strongly suspect England will bring Broad back for the second test and rotate their pace bowlers.

Jack Leach also could get a go after Dom Bess was, in my view, underbowled in the second innings.

This could be because the West Indies only have one left hander, and Leach’s left arm spin that takes the ball away from right handers could be more threatening.

The doors might be closed for spectators at the stadiums, but it is wide open for England to get back into the series.

I’m Wes, a young journalist from Oxford, currently in my final year at Solent University in Southampton. I’m a cricket fanatic and have been playing since I was five. I’ve visited Lord’s, the home of cricket, multiple times, as well as The Oval where I was invited into the BBC Test Match Special press box after I sent in some stats. I’m a Kent supporter but also follow Hampshire and have watched several county matches at the Rose Bowl whilst I’ve been in Southampton. My other interests are Motorsports namely Formula One, Formula E and rallying, as well as tennis and snooker and, more recently, darts. I truly am an old man at heart!

Follow me on Twitter @wesnspearman

This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk by Wes Spearman