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New-look England look up to familiar faces after overhaul

Last updated on 13 Mar 2022 | 07:16 PM
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New-look England look up to familiar faces after overhaul

After off loading a big chunk of Ashes flops, England will have to wait some more time for newcomers to establish themselves

“You draw comfort from seeing people across other sports, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting another contract at Milan (aged 39), Tom Brady winning his seventh Super Bowl at 43, Roger Federer (39) overcoming injuries or Chris Thompson qualifying for the Olympic marathon at 40. It makes you think, why should I start slowing down?” James Anderson told Guardian in an interview a few months ahead of the 2021-22 Ashes without showing any signs he wanted out of Test cricket. 

Back in May of last year, Test cricket’s highest wicket-taking pacer, was happy with the England team management and the depth of their fast-bowling reserves under the then head coach Chris Silverwood. Little did Anderson and his new-ball partner Stuart Broad knew that they would be part of an unceremonious dumping from the national team after Ashes 2021/22. Silverwood is no longer in charge. Haseeb Hameed, Rory Burns and Dawid Malan can hardly hope for a future in red-ball cricket. Joe Root, the only one to keep his job from this entire saga, has to keep notes ready to answer the perpetual question over his future as the Test captain.

Playing in the sultry heat of the Caribbean while withstanding much more fire from people back home, England did better themselves in the first Test at Antigua. It looked as if despite the new playing XI, featuring debutant Alex Lees, relative newcomers Craig Overton, Dan Lawrence and Ben Foakes, they would continue their free-fall after being reduced to 48/4 in the first innings.

But it was an England team searching for familiarities in unfamiliar circumstances. Jonny Bairstow, not far away from his 113 in the drawn Sydney Test, put on a rescue act with Ben Stokes, who was a part of a 128-run stand at Sydney when they were at 36/4. Jack Leach was once again the most efficient member of the bowling unit. He stepped up to bowl 45 overs in that draw against Australia and did the same against West Indies, but almost double the work with 74 overs and claiming five wickets. 

Zak Crawley came back with heroics in the second innings scoring his second Test hundred, following up on his fighting 77 against Australia that helped him keep his place in the squad. For England to have a series without a centurion named Joe Root would be considered an aberration and the skipper stepped up in the second innings with his seventh hundred from the last 18 innings. 

England had their saviours from the previous series, but looked less desperate when things went bad. After ten innings failing to get over the 300 mark, England finally did it twice. They also had three hundreds in a single match, the first time since November 2016, which was before Root was handed the full-time captaincy. 

Also, the decision to declare with just 285 to defend came as a bold one on a batting haven. England lost the services of Mark Wood for the second innings due to an elbow injury, but it was a statement from Root that he had faith in his bowling unit. 

They didn’t need Mark Wood to walk in at No. 8. Ben Foakes, replacing a dismal Jos Buttler from the Ashes, provided the safety net for the tailenders with a fighting 42. The other returnees – Overton, Lawrence and Woakes – did not do much to alter the course of the game. 

Overton and Woakes, who replaced Anderson and Broad, had to toil for over an hour and rely on the spin from Leach in between to get their first breakthrough, while the likes of Joshua Da Silva, Jason Holder and Nkrumah Bonner batted for two hours or more to wear down the England bowling attack. 

Against Bonner, who spent a total of nine and a half hours and faced a marathon 355 balls for his 123, looked barely troubled by Overton and Woakes. It took the experience of Stokes and Leach to produce genuine chances to dismiss him and were unlucky twice due to DRS and a spilled catch respectively.

Stokes and Leach were also the most threatening when it came to defending a lowly 285 on an unforgiving surface at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. The pair gave the visitors a sniff at victory before lunch by reducing West Indies from 59/0 to 67/4. Leach played set-up and Stokes came close to getting a wicket, but the doggedness displayed by Holder and Bonner kept England a bay. In their previous home series against Pakistan, West Indies were exposed to swing and bounce across two Tests. But England were short on bowlers who can work with the old ball.

While a fearsome opposition at home, West Indies are without Shannon Gabriel, who has been riddled with injuries over the last two years. They have also made the strange decision to drop spin trio: Roston Chase, Jomel Warrican and Rahkeem Cornwall, for the Test despite Chase and Cornwall being reliable batters in the middle order. For a new-face England, this is a relatively less daunting than facing well-conditioned Indian pace attack in swing-friendly conditions or the relentless barrage from Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon.

England can take confidence from the draw after coming close to dominating their opponents but will know that it will take more than just three Tests against the Windies to decide the trajectory of their revival. Root might be hoping to see Broad and Anderson back in the dressing room once a new head coach is appointed, but will know to expect the unexpected after ten years of international cricket. For now, the Yorkshire man will continue to keep his faith in the old guard.

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