It was a result that few foresaw, but in retrospect it was one that was always possible. But what England’s 2-1 loss to the Caribbean side has done more than anything else is leave them with a raft of unanswered questions. There is the small matter of a Test match against Ireland and the World Cup before England take part in the Ashes in August and September, but that actually gives them few opportunities to find the answers to their Test team makeup and tactics before their biggest fixture in the format.
There are a few players, and positions, which are locked in. Joe Root made a gritty hundred in the final match of this series to silence some of the criticism he came under for after two poor Tests in Barbados and Antigua. That criticism was always over blown. It was only in the series in Sri Lanka earlier this winter where Root last made a ton. Root seems to either be in trouble for making a fifty almost every time he bats or in trouble for making a hundred when he occasionally does pass fifty. Either way he will be in England’s side every time they take the field in the near future.
The sometimes fragile, but always exciting, combo of Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler will be in England’s Test team this summer. Stokes’ role isn’t up for debate. Runs, wickets, an on-field leader and a gun fielder. He bats either five of six and is a big part of England’s bowling attack. Twin fifties for Buttler in the St Lucia Test, and his consistency since his recall to the team means he will be there as well.
Bairstow started the series as England’s No 3, a position that Root should be taking, and ended back as their keeper and batting at seven. Word is he prefers the latter, but with Ben Foakes performing well with the gloves and having made a ton in Sri Lanka, he isn’t a lock to be given the gloves. But he will be in the side in one of those positions.
While Moeen Ali’s batting has been erratic, his bowling this winter has been fantastic. He finishes the six overseas Tests with 32 wickets at an average of 24. He might not like to be referred to as England’s number one spinner, but that is exactly what he is. James Anderson and Stuart Broad will also be taking the field. While England left out Broad in Sri Lanka and the Caribbean, they won’t do that in the UK.
That brings us to the question marks. Right now, England don’t have settled openers, a No 3 or a third seamer with whom they are completely dependent on. Keaton Jennings was dropped after the loss in Barbados and then after a terrible performance in his absence in Antigua, he was recalled. Unsurprisingly, he had the same issues on his return as he had when he was dropped. You have to think that if England had another option in the squad he would not have played in St Lucia and that he won’t be in the team for the Test against Ireland.
Rory Burns has looked the part at times and is yet to play a Test in home conditions, but his record after six Tests is far from impressive. He has 300 runs at 25 with two fifties. England openers have been dropped with better records than that. Take Keaton Jennings as example, who averages more and has two hundreds. You would think Burns will be given the summer to see if he can cement his Test credentials in home conditions, but failures against Ireland and the start of the Ashes and he will be under serious pressure.
If Bairstow isn’t going to bat at three then that means Joe Denly may well get a run in the side in that spot. He made a sometimes fluent and sometimes scratchy 69 in St Lucia and that should be enough for him to retain his spot, but how he will cope against the Australian seam attack is up for debate. He will need to be at his absolute best to still be in possession of that spot by the end of the English summer.
The third seamer question is one that is probably easier to answer than who bats one, two and three, purely because there are actually candidates for this spot, something that there is a distinct absence of when it comes to top order batsmen. Sam Curran had the spot at the start of this series having had a very promising start to his Test career. He offers left arm variation and important runs down the order. He will have a long England career but he may not make it back into this team after being left out for the St Lucia Test. If Chris Woakes is fit at the start of the summer he will be right in the mix for a spot as well.
But the headline act in amongst the candidates is Mark Wood who blew the third Test wide open with a sustained spell of attacking and aggressive pace bowling. There is nothing in cricket as captivating as an out and out quick, and Wood turned out to be the same bowler at the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground. Wood has been one of those players who has been better when he has been out of the team than when he was in it. His Test bowling average of 40 before his most recent recall certainly suggests that he hadn’t cracked the format up until this point. It was the promise of him doing this rather than the reality of him pulling it off that had people so excited. For now, as long as he is fit, he will be in the team with Broad and Anderson, but you don’t feel he is a long-term certainty just yet.
Even after this chastening loss in the Caribbean, England are a fine team at home and should go into the Ashes as favourites, and should make short work of Ireland in the one off Test at Lord’s. But the questions are still there, and you fear they won’t be answered by next winter.
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