ENGLAND TOUR OF WEST INDIES, 2019
Root is hoping a new combination can salvage something from what has been a miserable tour. © AFP
In a bid to avoid an embarrassing three-nil defeat, England have shuffled their pack once again for the third Test in St Lucia, with Joe Root hoping a new combination can salvage something from what has been a miserable tour.
Yet the selection of opener Keaton Jennings to replace Ben Foakes, with Jonny Bairstow taking the gloves and Joe Denly batting at three, looks muddled at worst and baffling at best. This is, don’t forget, the same Keaton Jennings deemed surplus to requirements just one match ago when he was dropped for Denly in Antigua. It is also the same Foakes who was man of the series against Sri Lanka earlier this winter.
The Surrey wicket-keeper’s omission is one of circumstance rather than form, with England’s surfeit of all-rounders, none of whom are doing a good enough job with the bat, continuing to cause problems as they have for the best part of a year. It is expected that Bairstow, having batted at three for the last three games, will move back down to seven here, with Jennings, Rory Burns and Denly occupying the top three berths.
It all adds up to the feeling that England are in a bit of a mess with just two Tests remaining – this one and the game against Ireland at Lord’s this summer – before they take on Australia for the Ashes. “There is plenty to play for in this game especially off the back of our two previous performances,” said Root. “There is an Ashes around the corner and it is an opportunity for those guys to show how good they are and put their hand up and put in some proper performances.
“We came away this winter trying to do things differently and find ways of winning away from home,” he told BBC Sport. “We had great success in Sri Lanka [where England won 3-0] and it’s not quite materialised here. Whether that be down to selection or how poorly we’ve played in parts, you have to see it for what it is and how you can best move that forward.”
Whether Jennings can improve on his showings in Barbados remains to be seen but given there is no other specialist batsman in the squad – a grave error on National Selector Ed Smith’s part – the Lancashire opener was England’s only option once they decided to make a change to the balance of their team. Unless Jennings contributes a big score, however, his selection looks like a stopgap and it’s unlikely he will be part of the Ashes campaign.
Nevertheless, Root will be looking for a reaction from all the team’s batsmen in St Lucia after they have singularly failed to adapt to conditions or the demands of the game situations in either Test match. “It’s very easy to spend loads of time on individual aspects [of batting] but you have to be very honest with yourself and where you can get better,” Root added. “I think a lot of it comes down to a mental approach individually with the bat and I think that clarity coming into this game is really important.”
Elsewhere, Mark Wood has been named in the 12-man squad having not been part of the original tour party. He is expected to take the place of Sam Curran and provide a boost of pace and energy which the bowling attack has at times lacked in the two Tests so far. A decision will be taken on the final eleven once the team arrives at the Darren Sammy National Stadium.
At least Wood’s selection has more sense to it given the surface in St Lucia is expected to offer some pace and bounce and following Curran’s ineffectual displays so far in the series. “He has gone away with the Lions, performed and worked his way back in the squad and he looks in great rhythm,” said Root of Wood. “He is bowling with good pace and he has developed his game as well.
“That is exactly what you want from guys when they have been left out, to come back better players. He has not taken the wickets he would have liked when he has had previous opportunities but look at him now and he couldn’t be in a better place to go on and do something really good.”