England win but winter doubts remain
England won the third and final Test of the series with an emphatic dismantling of a talented but young West Indies side.
Truthfully they were always winning after they bowled the visitors out for 123 on Thursday afternoon, but matches sometimes take little detours and this one certainly did with a mini-resurgence from West Indies when England slumped to 24-4 on the same evening. It was the best it got for West Indies, and despite a sort of fightback yesterday there was an inevitability about proceedings.
Not that it was dull. How could it be when James Anderson is making the ball move like a disco dancer in the 1970s. He claimed his 500th Test wicket on Friday evening with an absolute beauty that trimmed the off bail of Kieran Powell. It was a beautiful moment for a wonderful swing bowler. His knowledge and skill levels are so high it is almost laughable that the England and Wales Cricket Board are trying to employ a bowling coach. No one in world cricket knows more about the art of swing and seam bowling than Anderson, and the gift for England is that, despite being 35 years old, he is whippet fit and good for another few series. Two years more he reckons, and on current form and fitness there is no reason to dispute that.
His bowling yesterday was so supreme that he delivered his career best figures – 7-42 – and throughout this match he has passed the bat so often it has almost become a matter of when and not if the ball will finally be edged.
The morning was a procession disrupted by small passages of lusty blows by Jason Holder and Kemar Roach, and England were left needing only 107 to win in the afternoon. So Joe Root has won his first two series as captain but learned very little about a squad of players he needs to take to Australia for the Ashes in two months. Forget Australia’s current woes and travails on the sub-continent, they are a different beast at home and little about this England squad suggests they will be competitive come November.
Positions two, three and five in the England batting order are effectively triallists, and no side in Test match cricket has been successful consistently with 50 per cent of its top order uncertain of their places or even feeling that they belong.
Mark Stoneman has a game he understands and is likely to survive but Australia benefits bolder players, so in the middle order it would be better to gamble on a stroke-maker like James Vince than the current crop. He did not excel last summer but he has a flamboyance and game that could be more productive down under than this current selection.
The bowling is much simpler. Anderson, Stuart Broad (although he has not been at his best this season), Toby Roland-Jones, Ben Stokes and maybe Mark Wood if fit enough would make a dynamic and talented seam group with the splendid Moeen Ali as the solitary spinner.
For West Indies this tour must be seen as the start of a resurgence. Conditions in London this week conspired against them. Perfect for seam and swing, it has been an arduous task for those brought up in England and so doubly difficult for those lacking experience.
But, and this is as important as the win last week in Headingley, they never gave up the fight. On such things are teams forged. Holder is a decent leader and, with the crop of Barbadians, a real identity is emerging. They will suffer as they have this week but there are real signs of progress and promise. Shannon Gabriel really does need to learn a run-up that is consistent and legal but he can bowl and puts a bit of devil into the team.
With Roach supporting him and Holder as the third seamer, there is a real threat. The batting, despite this match, is developing with the two Hope brothers and Kraigg Brathwaite pivotal to what could become a respectable top order. They have pushed England when no one expected them to do so, and that is credit to them and a concern for Root. The winter will reveal much about the path both sides are on, and it might be better for the visitors.