Joe Root admitted it was a relief for England to finish a tough Test series on a high, following England’s 232-run victory in St Lucia, but admitted that his side would have to reflect on “some important lessons” going into a “very important summer”.
“I think it was a really important week for this group, to play in the manner we have,” Root said. In particular, he cited the performances of Mark Wood with the ball and Ben Stokes with the bat, as well as a more disciplined batting display from a top three that may not have made compelling cases for future selection, but who played their parts in blunting the new ball and freeing up England’s middle order to play with less pressure.
Root himself led from the front with his 16th Test century, as he bounced back from a tally of 55 runs in his first five innings of the series, but with Test cricket now on hold until July 24, when Ireland arrive at Lord’s as a curtain-raiser to the Ashes, many of the team’s unresolved issues will be put on the back-burner until after the World Cup.
Nevertheless, by responding to their heavy defeats in Barbados and Antigua with a hefty win of their own, England showed an ability to knuckle down and bat for time, rather than just the pursuit of quick runs that had been their downfall in the early exchanges of the series.
“I think at times, individually, in our approaches to managing different conditions and situations in the game, we can manage those periods a lot better,” Root said. “This week was a great example of that. We got a decent start in challenging conditions, and managed to build on that, get to a very good score and managed to hammer it home in the second innings.
“We feel like we are improving as a team and we’ve got some important lessons to learn, and plenty to think about ahead of a very important summer.”
The manner of England’s win appeared also to answer the call from their coach, Trevor Bayliss, who has been stinging in his criticism of the team’s “lack of mental discipline” in the first two Tests, and had called for a greater show of “guts and determination”.
“I think that depends on your definition of gutsing it out,” said Root. “The guys have worked really hard on this trip, it’s not down to a lack of effort. At times, maybe, we’ve been thinking the wrong things, and not quite getting the gameplans right or executing them. It’s about learning and improving on this trip.”
One clear lesson that England were taught was the importance of selection – with Wood’s stunningly quick spell in the third Test making the pace-light line-up in Barbados (where Sam Curran and Adil Rashid were preferred to Stuart Broad and a fourth frontline quick) look especially wrong-headed in hindsight.
“We found something [here] that’s worked throughout this series,” said Root. “It’s a shame we didn’t come across it a little bit earlier. But credit to the Windies, they played really well in those first two Test matches and outperformed us. Perhaps we could have gone in with a slightly different balance but we’ve got that knowledge if we come here again in the future.
“Wood bowled beautifully,” Root added. “I don’t think I’ve ever stood as far back as that before. I’m trying to nurse a hole in my hand from that first [catch] I managed to cling on to. It’s a great story. To go away, work how he has with the Lions and find really good form. To produce what he has done this week he should be really proud of that.”
Asked if Wood should have been selected sooner in the series, Root said: “It’s easy to say that now when you see him unleash himself and bowl with that pace and freedom. The enjoyment too, you always feel you’re getting the best out of Woody when he enjoys himself on the field. Hopefully he can harness that and take it forward.”
Given Wood’s long history of injury problems, Root admitted that he would need careful management to retain his edge as a fast bowler, and conceded he had a lot to learn about such things after Wood himself admitted his spell in the first innings had been “two overs too long”.
“When there is a bit more pace in the wicket we might have be smart about how we use him,” said Root. “And how we go about things at the other end. It is a learning curve for me, I am by no means the finished article as captain. I’m always looking to improve, but to have another option to go to, to have variation, is so important.”
Another man who seemed back to his free-flowing best was Stokes, whose vital first-innings fifty had been triggered by a return to an off-stump guard that had served him well against New Zealand in 2015, but who was also aided by a change to the balance of England’s team. He didn’t bowl a single ball in the first innings, having been over-relied upon in Barbados and Antigua, and seemed liberated to be the player England needed in a given situation, rather than constrained by too much responsibility.
“Ben’s approach this game is more of what he’s about,” said Root. “He’ll openly admit that, in the last year or so, he’s found things difficult and maybe gone too far the other way when wickets have been quite challenging.
“It’s great to see him come and play in the manner that he did in this game. When he’s firing and playing in that manner, it puts pressure on the opposition and gets the best out of himself, and he’s great for the team to bat around as well.”
The one player who appeared to lose out in St Lucia was Keaton Jennings, whose return to the top of the order ended with a bizarre dismissal off his thigh pad, a moment which seemed to signal that the end of the line had finally come.
Root, however, insisted that nothing can be taken for granted, especially with more than five months between now and the Ireland match for all the Test specialists to make good runs in the County Championship.
“He can come again,” said Root. “There’s a few things he’ll want to work on and improve, but you don’t become a bad player overnight, he’s got two tTest hundreds. He’ll go away and look to consistently get better. He’s got a very good attitude, he’ll go to Lancashire and keep working at his game.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @miller_cricket
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