WI vs Eng, 1st test, Antigua

Chris Woakes is one of a select group of cricketers to have kicked the first ball in a World Cup final. He knows what it’s like to have the eyes of the world pierced in the back of his skull as he nears his delivery stride and, when it comes to Test cricket, he even knows what it’s like. is to put together an unlikely chase from five-down to spit. But he surely never felt pressure like his opening spell on day two in Antigua.

As Woakes trotted with that familiar straight-line approach, cutting his way through the crease with the sharp, incisive lines of a saw blade in a sawmill, he would have known he was about to be judged. like never before in his international career. And the moment he left the field with the bruised numbers of 12-2-54-1, he might have been entitled to wonder if he was set up to fail.

A slew of platitudes were spouted by England management in the weeks following the choice to do without James Anderson and Stuart Broad and their 1,177 Test match wickets. But nothing has shaken the evidence of a nine-year international career quite like the suggestion – voiced with little conviction by England captain Joe Root – that a sustained run with the new ball was all Woakes needed to transform his status as an invaluable team player. to the attack leader with golden weapons.

The real reasons for Anderson and Broad’s binnings may never be made public – are they really too old or are they just being challenged to fight for their place in the summer? Are the shadows they cast too immense for others to thrive on (the accusation that was leveled against female captain Charlotte Edwards after her ruthless elimination in 2016), or Root’s complaint about the lengths that played in England’s defeat in Adelaide final proof that the captain and his star bowlers had reached a fork in the road?

Whatever the truth, this void in England’s reasoning – and the inevitable speculation it provoked – was thoroughly and detrimentally distracting. Even a return to that chestnut of 2021, rest and spin, would have been better than death by innuendo that Woakes, and to a lesser extent Craig Overton, endured in the buildup of the series. Woakes, after all, has gone more than 12 months – between August 2020 and September 2021 – without a single Test appearance, despite being the reigning England Test Cricketer of the Year. If this chance to lead the line had been presented as a reward for long service during lockdown, there might have been a few raised eyebrows, but surely a lot more understanding.

Instead, the reasoning was so odd, even the player himself didn’t quite seem to believe he justified it, after his six wickets at 55.33 in the Ashes exacerbated the rift between home and England. Away Test Stats – 94 wickets at 22.63 in English conditions and 31 at 52.38 away. Instead, it’s as if England management’s post-Ashes intention had been to rip players out of their comfort zones and expose them to the harsher realities of top-level professional sport – and if it is, then fair play, they nailed the brief.

And that’s how he came to that fateful fate of new bullet – a Dukes bullet, no less, Woakes’ weapon of choice on his frequent excursions to home soil. It charged, with conviction and with the occasional cute zipper beyond the outer edge. But, assuming Kraigg Brathwaite and John Campbell kept even half an ear to the ground in the ash fallout, there would never have been any mystery as to his methods.

Full and fuller was the requirement, in an unabashed bid for the hoop swing – a display, in fact, which only served to reinforce the wisdom of the ages which England chose to dispense with when this tour. Anderson and Broad would never have put up with this nonsense, hitting an unanswered ball into the blockhole time and time again, only to be drilled back into the ground at an initial rate of seven over. They would have dragged those lengths back – just as it appears they did, much to Root’s chagrin, in Adelaide – and conceded their runs one by one while priming their orb for that reverse swing display which, briefly, looked like a makeover England’s fortunes in the afternoon session.

“Obviously we’re going to talk about it, Anderson and Broad, because they’re legends, but we just have to admit that we didn’t do it right at the start, and we’ll do everything we can to do it right next time,” said Mark Wood. said at the end of the game

“I don’t think it’s about being patient, we set higher standards than just being patient,” he added. “We’re here to win. We’re trying to get it right now but, as can happen with any bowler, we just didn’t start well. Maybe we tried a little too hard, with the void of Anderson and Broad, we wanted to do our best and prove that we could do it, maybe that was it, but the way we came back showed good character as a group.

According to Cricviz’s Expected Wickets model, England’s new ball effort was their third least threatening of the past decade, a display surpassed only by England’s efforts in Melbourne and Sydney at the end of the 2017 Ashes- 18 – the first on one of the most shamefully dead drop-in pitches in history; the latter in a suffocating dead rubber at SCG, a match in which Root would later collapse with a sunburn.

England’s lack of penetration was illustrated by the 1.5 degrees of swing their openers located – compared to the 2.5 degrees West Indies had found when routing England for 48 for 4 on the first morning. You wouldn’t have thought the West Indies have been race-starved in recent encounters as Brathwaite galloped to the fastest fifty of his career, and in the process added the first half-opening stand. century of his team… since they faced the same opponents in the Test final of their 2018-19 series victory. In case Root didn’t know, these guys tend to raise their game when England are in town.

England’s lack of situational awareness was staggering at times. On the one hand, Root has clearly learned to cherish the pace and penetration of his last remaining 90mph bowler, Wood, and not knock him into the ground like he did with Jofra Archer in 2019-20. . On the other hand, limiting Wood to three overs in the first 23 while West Indies galloped 95-to-1 with nearly a limit and one over was another disconcerting misallocation of his resources.

When he finally kicked the ball, Wood duly struck in the second part of his comeback spell, catching Brathwaite with the wide after picking him up with another display of brisk pace. It’s the kind of lack of trickery that pays dividends on surfaces as slow as this, not the kind of upbeat lollipops Woakes felt compelled to throw at his opponents, as he struggled to to get that elusive swing. In the end, his excessive effort had sent ten deliveries – or almost one per more – sliding down the side of the leg, as well as a full outside throw that Jermaine Blackwood scornfully threw for one of ten fours. of Woakes day. to work.

At least Overton got the memo before it was too late. His own England credentials may hang by an even thinner thread than his new ball partner’s, but at least having been driven for two fours in his third new ball he was quick to shake off the jokes when he was called again and bombarded Campbell out with a bouncer just as he threatened to put the hammer down.

Overton then delivered a useful display of the reverse swing as a substitute for Wood and Ben Stokes – who has been restored to be a real bowler here, rather than this fake executor who succumbed to side strain in the ashes. But as if emboldened by the start they had been given, as well as the fact that everything had to pass, Nkrumah Bonner and Jason Holder overcame the threat with ironclad resistance to come closer and closer to the parity at the end.

“Of course, it’s weird,” admitted Wood, when asked what it was like taking the field without Broad or Anderson. “They’ve been there every time. We can’t compare to them, because we’re not them. We have to bring what we can do. Unfortunately, the best we could do wasn’t that first track. The second track was a lot better. We have to do our best next time, so here we are.”

Andrew Miller is ESPNcricinfo’s UK editor. @miller_cricket

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