The good news was that we finally had some cricket today. The bad news is that the cricket itself made a result much less likely. It was a day that would not have been out of place in either of the first two matches. England were the better side and on top at stumps, but were also sloppy throughout and should have been on top by more. The West Indies were outplayed and whilst they did give some of their wickets away, they did not just capitulate.
It was already known that England were resting Anderson, but they sprung a slight surprise by resting Broad and thus letting Finn, Onions and Bresnan all bowl. As far as bowling went, this worked okay. All three took wickets and all looked good. Anderson, however, was missed in the slips, where Bell put down two of the three chances that went to him. To be fair to Bell, he is not usually a slip fielder, but it did raise the question of why it was Bell in the slips and not Baristow, who keeps wicket for Yorkshire.
On the whole, all three seamers bowled well. There was the surprise of Bresnan taking the new ball instead of Finn, who is more suited to it, but this was rectified by the time the second new ball was available. There was also the predictable five overs of Trott and Swann was largely ineffective on what is effectively a first day pitch. But the West Indies should have been bowled out and probably bowled out well before stumps. England seemed to lack a cutting edge, which has really been a bit of a problem all series. There were a total of three drops in the slips and twice an edge went through the vacant third slip. The carelessness in the field was annoying, but the negative field setting was worse. This is a three day Test and one which it is almost impossible for England to lose and yet there were only two slips in for the second new ball. It was absolutely pointless caution. Whilst this would not usually be surprising from Strauss, in this case he had at least given Finn a full slip cordon in the morning with the original ball, so why not with the second?
Restoring that ‘bite’ is something which England must do before the series against South Africa starts. If one looks back on the home series against India; there were a few chances that went down, but only a few and almost none that played a big part. I’m sure England did drop some chances in the Ashes before that, but none are at all memorable and I don’t think there were more than a couple. Even when we were losing in the UAE we held our chances more often than not. Putting down three in a day (and a few more earlier in the series) represents a troubling aberration. Although it would be disappointing, hopefully this is no more than a case of the players not being ‘up’ for an early season series against a weak team. We did see much the same against Sri Lanka last year. Whatever the problem is, it needs to be solved before the Series against South Africa.
The combination of sloppiness and negativity cost England the opportunity to put themselves into a great position. The West Indies batted decently, but still threw a few wickets away (Sammy, particularly, appeared to forget or disregard the batting lesson from the first two Tests) and were overmatched in any case. The fact that England could not take advantage is disappointing from the perspective of the match itself. The best chance to get a result was to only play three innings and the best chance for that to happen was for England to bowl the West Indies out for under 200 and get a big lead by the end of day four. Now it looks like England will not have time to do so and will have to look to skittle the West Indies on the last day and quickly chase it. It is much less likely and whilst it would be a bit harsh on England for anyone to expect them to win, they did have a chance and have made it much harder on themselves.