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England v West Indies: Striking The Right Balance

There are question marks over the balance of both the England and West Indies line-ups in the second Test at Trent Bridge, says Jo Harman.

Striking a balance. It’s arguably the key undertaking of any selection panel, but it’s a task that’s easier said than done. The balance of the West Indies side was a matter of debate in the Sky Sports commentary box on the first morning of the second Test at Trent Bridge; with Mike Atherton arguing the tourists should sacrifice a batsman for an extra bowler.

On the face of it, his suggestion appeared perverse. Why would the Windies weaken an already fragile batting line-up and risk being skittled on a track that has been a favourite hunting ground for England’s seamers? But when Adrian Barath, Kirk Edwards and Darren Bravo all trudged back to the pavilion in the first hour of play, having mustered 10 runs between them, it didn’t seem such crazy talk.

If this is the best the Windies top order can offer after opting to bat on a flat track in the sunshine – albeit against an England attack with their tails up and finding some swing – would the tourists not have been better off going for broke, playing five bowlers, and hoping to nick a low-scoring contest?

Edwards in particular seems superfluous; there’s not much value to your number three if he can’t get to two figures, let alone three. Filling the pivotal position at first drop, he had managed scores of 8, 0, 4, 1 and 0 coming into this Test and it was no surprise when an inswinger from Jimmy Anderson breached a gaping hole between bat and pad to send him on his way for 7. Surely his namesake Fidel would pose more threat with the ball than Big Kirk with the bat?

That’s not to say the argument doesn’t have flaws.  Playing the extra bowler would mean promoting Denesh Ramdin to No.6 – arguably two places too high for a batsman who averages the same in Test cricket as England’s No.10, Graeme Swann – while Edwards was wayward at Lord’s and has only been a very occasional matchwinner in his Test career.

The Windies are to an extent damned if they do and damned if they don’t, as an inexperienced side playing against the world’s No.1 Test side on their own patch. But if the tourists were to back themselves and weigh up their options as how best to take the game by the scruff of the neck, then Atherton’s argument is a persuasive one.

England too could be said to be playing it safe. Such is the gulf in class between these sides that a specialist batsman at No.6 is a luxury, particularly given that the hosts have one of the world’s finest fast bowlers waiting in the wings in Steven Finn – not to mention a resurgent Graham Onions, who is back to his best after a long spell on the sidelines.

The England selectors could argue, and with some justification, that with South Africa to come later this summer and boasting a bowling attack that will necessitate the security of an extra batsman, it would be unsettling to mess around with the balance of the side now. After all, the last time England opted for five bowlers in a home Test was in the 2009 Ashes at Headingley and they got badly burnt. There has been no sign of Andy Flower repeating the experiment. Nonetheless, it’s hard to explain Jonny Bairstow’s inclusion above Finn or Onions in this series as anything other a determination to stick to a specified formula.

As the day wore in Nottingham, there was a sense that England’s attack had loosened the pressure because there wasn’t another strike-bowler to call upon. Jonathan Trott filled a few overs; Graeme Swann went round the wicket to a five-four leg side field; Tim Bresnan huffed ineffectively. When the ball’s soft and the mood’s soporific, a team needs a spark. Arguably that spark was sitting next to Flower on the dressing room balcony, struggling not to look too glum. Darren Sammy and Marlon Samuels may well have ploughed on with their inspired partnership regardless; but on a track looking ever flatter in the afternoon heat, both captains might reflect that with a touch more adventure, they could be ahead of the game. As it stands, after a stunning second-half fightback by the West Indies, it’s anyone’s.

Click here to read Following On: From Jonny Bairstow To Jonny Bairstow

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