Hopefully this level of competition can be maintained throughout the summer. One of the many challenges will be for the gardener. Simon Lee of Hampshire set the bar high in his first game at his new home, but the ideal – especially in consecutive tests in the same place – is to have different types of area for each game in order to change the pattern of matches. This will require special expertise.
Now the movement is shifting to Emirates Old Trafford and, glory be it, we’re just arguing about cricket – who to play and who to leave out? It is progress. There is not much time to rest and recover or for the West Indies to relax in the splendor of a famous victory. For them, it is a question of checking the physical condition of their bowlers and hoping that they can send the same combination – knowing that Kemar Roach will soon take away some victims.
But what about England? They won’t waste too much time worrying about what happened at the Ageas Bowl. Ben Stokes seemed comfortable to be in charge on the pitch and played well – albeit maddeningly with the bat as he seemed to be playing critical innings twice before too much footwork elaborate only contributes to its downfall. He had two tricky decisions to make before and after the draw, of which choosing to hit the gloaming seemed the most questionable. Evidence suggests that England has misread the pitch; it did not deteriorate nearly as quickly as expected.
Now what? In an extraordinary summer, an extraordinary reaction is justified: mass rotation. In the past, player rotation has been discussed much more often than it has been used. But given the strange current circumstances that make it impossible for any member of the team to play competitive cricket in the three-test series, the rotation must surely happen early if it works. Otherwise, those on the sidelines will come into play as a last resort, completely out of sync, with cricket in the middle of a distant memory.
Much has been said about the depth of bowling resources in England when everyone is in good shape and the complications that this entails for the selectors. The time may have come to explore these depths. Thus, for the second test, it is necessary to carry out an experimental revision, which would allow everyone to have a more enlightened idea of the best combination thereafter.
So the radical course – and unlikely – would be to choose a rhythm attack that looks like this on Thursday: Broad, Archer, Woakes, Stokes. This would leave Mark Wood, Jimmy Anderson and the unfortunate Sam Curran thirsty for action in the final test against the West Indies if necessary. I would also consider the spinning bowling berth.
Dom Bess improves quickly and he did a very good job for his captain at the Ageas Bowl since there was less help than expected (the four drummers dismissed by the spinners in the match fell from mishits rather than excessive turn). On the last day, a spinner leaving the bat would probably have been more dangerous. On this basis, Jack Leach, if he was playing near his best, could have been more efficient, which is the conclusion that Somerset has generally achieved. Let’s find out.
Stick changes are less confusing. It seems inevitable that England will just trade Joes, Root for Denly. Behind the strains, there is also a case for an experimental change, which would mean the selection of Ben Foakes. To me, a longtime admirer of Buttler, this would really be a radical step, but, in a spirit of rotation, not necessarily permanent.