St Kitts & Nevis XI 59 England 181-1: Jonathan Trott in fine form on return to duty but England need tougher tests

 

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The Independent Online

Quite what the meaningful connection was between yesterday’s proceedings and the preparation for a Test series was not immediately apparent. It offered England time in the middle on a lovely day (sunny with a hint of a cooling breeze) in beautiful surroundings before a smattering of perfectly content spectators.

In some ways it was a little like the congenial games, amounting to little more than exhibitions in rural backwaters, that form the curtain-raisers to many long tours. Unfortunately for England, this and the two-day game which follows against more or less the same opposition, are all they will have before the first Test begins in Antigua next Monday. In no sense will they feel truly match-hardened against the red ball.

It all went well enough. The St Kitts & Nevis Invitational XI were bowled out for 59 in 26.3 overs after winning the toss and England responded with 181 for 1.

The players whom England would have most wanted to contribute did so with zest. Ben Stokes, oddly treated by the selectors, took 3 for 10 from six purposeful overs.

There have been occasions when Stokes, as mercurial as he is gifted, has struggled to land the ball on the cut strip but he was nippy and zippy, with a generous hint of swing. Chris Jordan, preferred to Liam Plunkett whose 30th birthday it was, took two wickets in an eminently decent spell of five overs.

 

Batting immediately after lunch, England’s new opening partnership of Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott put on 158. Trott was Trott and determinedly so. Playing his first game for England since the ill-fated Test against Australia in November 2013, he nudged his first ball for two, clipped his third for four and then dropped anchor, accumulating his fifty from the next 110, and that with some acceleration near the end.

Steve Peters, the psychologist who helped to treat Trott’s stress-related condition which forced him to leave the Ashes tour, issued a statement yesterday which said: “Specific circumstances were creating emotions in Jonathan Trott and this resulted in a situational anxiety. He has now resolved this and is in a good place psychologically.” If the specific circumstance was Mitchell Johnson hurling it down at 94mph it might not be resolved finally.

Cook was no more active than Trott. There was no need. No one was confirming or denying but the initial XI that England named yesterday (with James Tredwell as the 12th man, bowling but not batting) are likely to form the team for the opening Test. This will mean an improbable return for Trott, a testament to his dedication, a recall for Stokes, who is the real international deal, and a debut for Adil Rashid, the leg-spinner.

The tourists, relaxed and confident as all teams invariably are at the start of a trip, though not necessarily by the end, could have done with stronger opponents. St Kitts & Nevis properly represented the present strength of cricket in their region but, since they finished bottom of the domestic first-class competition, that did not make them precisely what was required. St Kitts has never provided a Test cricketer to West Indies, though Nevis, its smaller sibling, has supplied six, most recently Kieran Powell. It is reasonable to assume that one of those in this match will be joining them.

The batting was desperately weak, the only surprise being in retrospect that it took until the ninth over for the first wicket to fall. For England’s new-ball pair of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad it was a case simply of trying to rediscover their range after a bitterly disappointing and underachieving World Cup. They are, for now at least, fireproof.

Anderson produced a trademark swinger to claim the first wicket but it was Stokes who took the next three, two of them edges to slip, the other a faulty shot to point. Six of the 10 wickets fell to catches behind the wicket; without taking anything away from England’s bowling it was not that kind of pitch.

Just as it looked as if neither Rashid nor James Tredwell would be required they were rushed into the attack. Rashid struck with his third ball, a googly, as did Tredwell, without either having time to mount a serious case.

Cook and Trott set out to bat time as it seems sure they must in the imminent series. The bowling was unthreatening but they declined to be hurried, perhaps trying to find now the rhythm that will be required later.

It was difficult to recall that this was the ground on which, not so long ago, in the 2007 World Cup, Herschelle Gibbs, of South Africa, hit six sixes in an over. On 17, Cook nearly made a mess of a pull shot which went into the air at midwicket between fielders. Otherwise he and Trott, against whom the short ball was used to little effect, were untroubled.

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