If you needed to sum up England’s latest series defeat in a single quote, you could do a lot worse than Joe Root’s pre-tour comment: “I don’t want this to sound like a development tour at all but…”
A friend of ours tells a story about when he did a few days of temp work in a supermarket distribution centre in our home town.
One day the line stopped and so our mate started flattening boxes or something until it was fixed. After a minute or two, he noticed another worker was still standing at the conveyor belt, completely motionless, clearly with no idea what to do.
“Why don’t you sweep up or something?” suggested our mate and handed him a brush. The guy took this on board and started sweeping.
Our mate was due a break pretty soon after this, so he wandered off and had a sandwich or whatever and when he returned, the line was going again. And this bloke was still brushing the floor.
Joe Root is not a sub-moron but there has frequently been a wisp of this incredible obliviousness to changed circumstances about his captaincy.
The most obvious example was when England spent an entire morning pointlessly bouncing Jasprit Bumrah last summer. It was a bad plan from the start but even if Root didn’t realise that – and clearly he didn’t – he was then handed a growing body of evidence that this was not a good way of going about things. He responded by carrying on until India decided enough was enough and declared.
Those sorts of tail-end partnerships have happened a number of times, including in the latest defeat. England had a big last wicket partnership of their own in this Test, but that felt like more of a one-off whereas the West Indies one was part of what is becoming a big long-running franchise.
Similarly, Root’s often criticised for picking the XI that should have played the previous Test, seemingly unaware that things have moved on. He’s not a bad guy, he’s not the worst captain, but it does always feel like he’s consistently one step behind when you really need your captain to be one step ahead. Two steps feels like a lot to make up after 64 Tests in charge.
This even applies to Root’s desire to continue as captain. When Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and Wisden editor Lawrence Booth all think you should go, it’s hard to see how a new coach will be able to kick off their reign by confidently stating you’re the best man for the job. Root is going to get the boot, but he doesn’t seem to have spotted this yet.
It is hard to captain a crap team, but with this West Indies tour in particular it feels like Root has been contributing to the crapness. Offered the chance to show the world his vision of the future, he’s given us second-tier right-arm fast-medium bowlers, a few more air miles for Matt Parkinson and the continued inability to prevent “one bad session” from becoming “one seismically, match-losing session”.
It’s all so shrug-inducing and conservative. If it weren’t for the injury to Mark Wood and the bafflingly protracted unfitness of Ollie Robinson, it’s doubtful Saqib Mahmood would have got a game – and he is arguably the one interesting development from this not-a-development-tour.
In which case what would the soft-binning of Anderson and Broad have achieved? A couple more games for seam bowlers who get games pretty damn regularly anyway. England had used nine pace bowlers in the 12 months of Test matches leading up to this series without even trying. The idea that you have to actively ditch your opening bowlers to create “opportunities” is bollocks.
Nasser Hussain is probably right when he says the decision was more about trying to, “create this atmosphere where they were all mates and all in it together” by selecting “10 yes men.”
If that works out – lovely. But it didn’t work out and so this not-a-development-tour will most likely bring one significant development after all.