West Indies’ naive tactics were hard to excuse, but years of defeat can do funny things to the mind. The first day of the series – the inaugural day/night Test between England and West Indies at Edgbaston – lacked the edge that Test cricket requires.
When Jason Holder, West Indies’ 25-year-old Test captain, removes his best fast bowler of the day Kemar Roach from the attack, just as the new ball becomes available, you have to wonder what he’s thinking.
When he replaces him with himself – the side’s fourth-seamer, a medium-pacer – only to walk off injured after three balls, you wonder yet again.
Then the spinner Roston Chase completed the over. Part-time off-spinner Kraigg Brathwaite bowled the next one. Only when the coach Stuart Law sent on the 12th man with instructions to take the new ball did it happen, and Roach came back on. Brathwaite, standing in for Holder while he was off the field, looked like the thought hadn’t occurred to him.
England were 300-3. There were 10 overs left in the day. Yes, it had been a punishing one for the West Indies, who after two early wickets had failed to apply much pressure to Alastair Cook and Joe Root as they both moved to serene centuries. But here was a chance, under the lights, with a new ball, to get back on the attack and move the game back their way.
To anyone who’s watched a bit of Test cricket, much less played for or captained their country, this was so glaringly obvious that the point was barely worth making out loud. And yet here West Indies’ captain and vice-captain were needing to be told. There is no shortage of factors mitigating West Indian players’ performances in recent years – some of them powerful, historic, global forces. But these guys have played the game enough; there can be little excuse for that level of naivety.
It wasn’t just the tactics, but the energy and spirit. There was no injection of intensity in that last 10 overs, that beautiful standalone window before the close offering sideways movement and renewed pressure on the batsmen – not least Dawid Malan, who could easily be playing his last Test match. The over-rate remained soporific. The fielding remained sloppy and lacklustre. It is hard to believe that you are watching meaningful Test cricket when a side does so little to try and discomfort its opposition.
Yes, it can be hard to believe. But then, even one tough, dispiriting day in the field can frazzle the mind and lead people to make strange decisions. Try years of off-field chaos and on-field hammerings.
Nasser Hussain’s famous decision to bowl at Brisbane in the first Test of the 2002/03 Ashes series was not made in a vacuum. It was the result of years of fearful beatings at the hands of the Australians, all that accumulated baggage leading to a position where a flat pitch on a sunny day was no longer what it seemed.
When you’re not the one out in the middle, knackered and demoralised, struggling to keep yourself and your under-strength team together, the right decision is obvious. Not so for Jason Holder, whose attack – of which he himself is the least potent part – is simply not good enough to beat England.
West Indies will have better days in the three-match series than this first one at Edgbaston. But after a build-up in which we dared to hope that this young West Indies side might be the best and most spirited we’ve seen here for a while (in spite of all the excellent players back home playing in the Caribbean Premier League) the opener on Thursday was a huge disappointment. Notwithstanding all the excitement around the day/night debut and the pink ball, the game itself lacked the edge that Test cricket requires if it is to retain its meaning.