England vs West Indies: Hosts put Joe Root's shambolic side to the sword in first Test

West Indies 289 & 415-6d, England 77 & 56-0​: It’s a long road ahead for the visitors, and it will be painful for as long as it lasts

Jonathan Liew day three wrap West Indies vs England

A long day for England, albeit one with a single dominant theme: suffering. As Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder continued to build their remarkable partnership, as the bowlers pounded their knees and ankles into the turf, as the hot afternoon sun beat down on their sodden shoulders, as the lead built past 400 and then 500 and 600, a realisation seemed to dawn on those present that this was an ordeal with ramifications far beyond England’s inevitable defeat.

For this was the sort of experience that shapes psyches, that wears down tissue and tendon. It wasn’t simply that the West Indies, helmed by Holder’s scintillating double-century, batted through the day without losing a wicket, breaking records and breaking spirits. It wasn’t even the fact that the world’s No 2 side never looked remotely capable of a breakthrough, despite the fact that the previous day had produced 18. It was the manner in which they were crushed: the sheer futility and impotence with which they toiled against a pair that were able to defend at will and attack at will. Days like this leave scars.

For the likes of James Anderson and Ben Stokes, the scars will be physical. Stokes has sent down more than 50 overs in this match, his highest workload since a major knee operation in 2016. This was not the way in which he would have wanted to test his surgeon’s handiwork, nor the way in which England would have wanted him to start the year. For hour after hour he ran in at full pelt, the only way he knows how. But if he pulls up with a stress fracture on the eve of the World Cup, its origins will be easy enough to trace. Anderson too buried himself, for a third consecutive day, in his 17th year of Test cricket. For neither player will there have been a single redeeming feature to this experience.

For most of the rest, the scars will be psychological. For England’s bowlers, there will be the self-doubt: how can players this gifted fail so comprehensively? For Joe Root and England’s management, selection and tactics will come under the microscope. Picking three seamers and two spinners was a serious misjudgement of conditions, one thrown into sharp relief by the home side’s breathtakingly effective pace quartet.

So peripheral was Adil Rashid here – going at almost seven an over – that Root eventually jettisoned him in favour of his own scruffy leg-spin, which he has been quietly honing since the tour of Sri Lanka last autumn. Richie Benaud once reckoned that four years was the minimum apprenticeship for a leg-spinner with designs on the highest level. Root seems to have fast-tracked his tutelage using a mixture of occasional nets and YouTube videos. Still, it worked to an extent: the West Indian batsmen seemed to play him with a sense of bemused wariness more than anything else.

Jason Holder celebrates reaching his double-century

Underlying all this was a single, uncomfortable question. Any team can have an off-game, and heaven knows this England team has had its share of those. But to be bowled out for 77, and then to succumb this comprehensively in the field, is of several orders of magnitude beyond that. Much has been made of the transformation of Root’s England in recent months. But it’s not outlandish to posit that this Test puts them right back where they started. We can all talk about processes, learning curves, the vicissitudes of sport, and so on. Nevertheless, how can a team that plays this badly – this ineptly – possibly be fit for purpose?

Having pummelled England all day, Holder gleefully pulled up the drawbridge shortly before 4pm, having muscled his way to a brilliant unbeaten 202. The final blow – a disdainful swipe to the mid-wicket boundary off Keaton Jennings – was celebrated with a sprint and a leap and an expression of pure, jubilant disbelief. Desmond Haynes never hit a Test double-century. Richie Richardson never hit a Test double-century. But somehow Holder – a man with a first-class average of 25 whose batting is a clear third-string behind his bowling and captaincy – had bested them all. The partnership ended on 295 – the third highest in Test history – while Holder’s eight sixes were the most in West Indies v England Tests.

So peripheral was Adil Rashid here that Root eventually jettisoned him in favour of his own scruffy leg-spin

Earlier, he had brought up his century into the only acceptable Caribbean fashion: smashing Rashid back over his head to move from 94 to three figures. Dowrich’s own century was more circumspect, brought up over five hours, largely waiting for the loose ball and then invariably despatching it through the covers. For him, too, this was a proud and seminal moment, his third Test century but his finest by far.

How had we reached this point? Perhaps it was proof that Test cricket is a function of mood as much as anything else. Talent and preparation will only get you so far: sometimes the game simply sweeps you up, and if the West Indies buoyant and buzzing, England were persistent but fatally dispirited. And so solemnly and joylessly, Rory Burns and Jennings stepped down the pavilion steps and solemnly saw out 20 uneventful overs in pursuit of an absurd target of 628. Burns played some nice clips. Jennings, as ever, is extremely fortunate to be making a career out of international sport. Dismay deferred for now. But it’s a long road ahead, and its destination promises only more pain.

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