“There was never a stage where the dressing room didn’t feel we could win,” said Ben Foakes after England lost the first Test by a quite enormous margin.
At no point? Not even when you were 393 runs behind in your second innings with just one wicket left?
The truth is that England went from in the game to out of it extremely quickly and spent only a very brief period circling the plughole of defeat. At lunch on day two, they were 30-1; by the drinks break, they were 49-7. They were all out at tea.
Somewhere along the way, the defeat threshold was crossed. England started losing during that session and they lost before it had ended. That was when they disappeared from view. They then spent two-and-a-bit days making their way to the soil pipe.
We’re not saying that all of the second innings rubbishness was forgivable, but it was understandable. Professional sportsmen tend to need a bit more competition to make use of their competitive edge.
The 77 all out was, to us, the most meaningful occurrence in the first Test.
So, warm-ups then
Let’s accept that the West Indies bowled well. And let’s also accept that they didn’t bowl 77-all-out well. Let’s assume that a middling Test batting side performing in a completely average way would probably have made more than 77 on that day.
We think that’s fair. You can laud Kemar Roach while also saying that he exploited a lack of sharpness in the opposition batsmen. That shouldn’t really diminish the acclaim. You can only bowl out the batsmen in front of you – and by the long legs of Garner, he did that.
The lack of a competitive warm-up has been cited as one reason for England’s vulnerability and we’d tend to agree with that.
The difference between a brilliant batsman and a rubbish one is a fraction of a second and we don’t really see how you can go from a British winter to playing an international cricket match against unfamiliar bowlers without first undergoing a very thorough sharpening.
Bowlers it’s a bit different because the perils of bluntness are less terminal for them. It’s not ideal, but a bowler can sharpen as they go.
It’s surely not a coincidence that touring sides’ batting collapses so frequently come in the first innings of a series, so let’s take a look at a few of England’s recent tours and see how much warm-up they had for each and what happened when the Tests then got underway.
West Indies 2015
A pair of two-day matches (one 14-a-side, one 17-a-side) and England then made 399 in their first innings of the series.
A pair of two-day 15-a-side matches and England then made 598-9.
South Africa 2015/16
A stupid 13-a-side three-day match followed by a four-day match against South Africa A helped England score 303 (well played, Nick Compton and James Taylor).
A number of England’s Test batsmen warmed up by first playing the one-day series. This was then followed by a two-day 12-a-side game and a two-day 14-a-side game. England made 293 in their first Test innings, which was built on fifties from Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow, both of whom had been around for the one-dayers.
The warm-up for this series was actually the Bangladesh Test series. England made 537.
After one 15-a-side match and two four-day first-class matches, England made 302.
New Zealand 2018
After a long stint of limited overs cricket, England played two two-day 13-a-side warm-up games before being swung out for 58.
Sri Lanka 2018
Two 50-over warm-ups, five one-day internationals, a T20 international and two two-day matches. England made 342 – although that was mostly down to Ben Foakes who only made a couple of cameos in the silly two-dayers.
Minimal warm-up doesn’t seem to guarantee a shit start, but you also don’t seem to get a shit start without minimal warm-up.
We believe England are to embark on a two-Test tour of New Zealand later this year without any meaningful warm-up matches. There will also be five T20 internationals though. No idea whether those are being played first.