England still in selection chaos in the West Indies… their strategy for the Ashes should be set in stone by now
- Untimely injuries and West Indies dominance have scuppered Ashes plans
- Only third West Indies Test and one game against Ireland remain before series
- There is confusion over best line-up and England have again made changes
- Keaton Jennings is set for an improbable recall for dead rubber in St Lucia
England should really have their Ashes strategy set in stone by now. Instead, a combination of unexpected West Indian dominance here and untimely injuries has left their plans completely up in the air ahead of Saturday’s third Test.
Just a four-day Test against Ireland at Lord’s after the World Cup remains in red-ball cricket after this last Caribbean face-saving exercise for England to solve a puzzle that has been created by this humiliating series defeat. And chaos reigns.
Uncertainty over the fitness of Ben Stokes — who was left with a sore heel by over-bowling in the first two Tests and, it is said, treading on a stone during a fitness session on the beach — has left England shuffling their pack again.
Trevor Bayliss’ England side have seen their plans for the Ashes dismantled in the West Indies
Ben Stokes’ untimely injury means England are sweating on his fitness for the third Test
On Friday night, Stokes was named in a 12-man squad but only seems destined to play if England are sure he can fulfil an all-round role and he is unlikely to be risked as a specialist batsman. Sam Curran looks set to miss out from the 12 if Stokes is deemed fit.
That means Keaton Jennings seems certain to complete a most unlikely comeback and gain another chance to show he really can cope against pace on the quickest pitch in the Caribbean. And the wicketkeeping gloves are back with Jonny Bairstow. Ben Foakes, who was man of the series in Sri Lanka, is entitled to feel hard done by but Bairstow wants to return to the middle order and grab his gloves back.
Bairstow has made a century and a good 50 since being elevated to No 3 in Colombo, but England have granted his wish and left their top order treading Caribbean water.
Mark Wood, bowling with real pace again after a heart-to-heart with coach Trevor Bayliss, has been handed the chance to resurrect his Test career, with Chris Woakes ruled out with a worryingly persistent knee injury.
Mark Wood (left) is bowling with pace but Chris Woakes (right) has been ruled out injured
Confused? England certainly seem to be. The need for a much, much better display is acute against a West Indies side who could hand a debut to their rapid man mountain, 21-year-old Oshane Thomas, in place of suspended captain Jason Holder.
This has become a huge test of the quality and gumption of England and captain Joe Root, whose batting form has slumped so alarmingly that he needs to prove he is capable of coping with the demands of leadership.
On Friday, Root had to defend the ‘total cricket’ policy used so successfully in Sri Lanka but which has been exposed by a West Indies side full of pace, aggression, discipline and application.
‘What I said was you have to score runs to win Tests, not just bat time,’ said Root while clarifying pre-series comments that suggested England wanted to bring their successful white-ball tactics into the longer game.
‘Look at how West Indies have batted and you can see they’ve struck the right balance. They’ve found a method that really works for them in these conditions.
Joe Root accepted that the West Indies have found a much better way to play the conditions
‘We didn’t come here saying we were going to tee off. Individually we have to take responsibility, find ways of exploiting surfaces in front of us and find ways to score consistently while managing risk. The art of Test cricket is being able to do that around the world. Managing hostile spells of bowling is part and parcel of that.’
Root may have received two unplayable deliveries in Antigua but he is averaging 42 as captain while he peaked at 52 before succeeding Sir Alastair Cook.
Has captaincy dulled England’s brightest batting light? ‘I’m not sure it has,’ he insisted. ‘I’ve got out to one bad shot in this series and I feel I’ve had three dismissals I couldn’t do a huge amount about. If I wasn’t captain I don’t think I’d have been able to play those deliveries any differently.’
How England need Root back at his best when they try to avoid becoming the first side to lose to West Indies by three Tests since India in 1989. And they attempt to do it having gone back to a well-worn drawing board.