England’s red-ball reset: Jack Leach and Jonny Bairstow among those to impress as new era begins | Cricket News



Mark Butcher assesses England's performance in the first Test against West Indies, saying spinner Jack Leach and opener Zak Crawley were 'massive pluses'

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Mark Butcher assesses England’s performance in the first Test against West Indies, saying spinner Jack Leach and opener Zak Crawley were ‘massive pluses’

Mark Butcher assesses England’s performance in the first Test against West Indies, saying spinner Jack Leach and opener Zak Crawley were ‘massive pluses’

A top-order collapse in the first innings and then a struggle to take wickets away from home – England’s red-ball reset initially felt more like a red-ball repeat.

But thanks to centuries from Jonny Bairstow, Zak Crawley and Joe Root and the spin bowling of Jack Leach, the new era began with a draw against West Indies. At one point late on day five, even a win looked possible.

Here, we look at the good and bad for England in Antigua…

The good

Bairstow back to his best

Jonny Bairstow's 109 helped England recover from 48-4 to to 311 all out in their first innings

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Jonny Bairstow’s 109 helped England recover from 48-4 to to 311 all out in their first innings

Jonny Bairstow’s 109 helped England recover from 48-4 to to 311 all out in their first innings

Bairstow and Crawley began the chastening 4-0 Ashes series out of the side – but now look pretty much cemented in it after following good innings against Australia with tons in the Caribbean.

Bairstow, who scored England’s only Ashes century in Sydney before a thumb injury ruled him out of the fifth game in Hobart, revived England from 48-4 in the first innings in Antigua with an at times nuggety and at times free-flowing 140 from 259 deliveries, his highest Test score since 2016.

Jonny was magnificent, playing like that under pressure. We know he likes the limelight and standing up in those situations. Hopefully he can carry on and show what a great Test batsman he is.

Joe Root on Jonny Bairstow

While the Yorkshireman was rising as a white-ball force, his red-ball returns became leaner, averaging under 31 in Test cricket in 2018, under 19 in 2019 and under 25 in 2021.

But perhaps armed with the knowledge that at 32 years of age and with 80-odd Tests behind him any further blips could spell the end of his Test career, Bairstow has responded with tons in successive matches.

A tweak to his batting technique also appears to have played a part.

Crawley finds form and Root settles at No 3

Since making 267 against Pakistan in August 2020, Crawley had only passed the half-century mark twice in 21 Test innings. That would all change in the second innings against the West Indies.

Zak Crawley admitted there were times he feared he may never score an international hundred again after averaging below 11 in Test cricket in 2021

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Zak Crawley admitted there were times he feared he may never score an international hundred again after averaging below 11 in Test cricket in 2021

Zak Crawley admitted there were times he feared he may never score an international hundred again after averaging below 11 in Test cricket in 2021

The 24-year-old top-scored for England with a masterful 121, repaying the faith which has been shown in him. Hopefully, from an England point of view, this will be the start of the Kent man finally realising his undoubted potential.

He was very disciplined, left extremely well, defended straight and waited for the bowlers to come to him. I think that shows great maturity. It was a massive step forward for him and he’s set an example to the guys around him.

Joe Root on Zak Crawley

It was a big second innings from Joe Root too, having started his move back up to No 3 in the batting order with being dismissed for 13 in the first innings.

Once again, he had to come in with England one down early on, but this time dug in with Crawley and helped propel the tourists towards a declaration.

Root’s 109 was his 24th Test century and his third batting at No 3. Not only that, but he moved ahead of Kevin Pietersen on England’s all-time century-makers list.

The value of him moving one place up the order is clear to see – get him in before the crisis and not once it has already happened.

Leach puts Windies in a spin

If there was a player who truly underlined his value to the England team in this match then it was their left-arm spinner, although his contributions with the ball in both innings were perhaps overshadowed by the fact the match ended as a draw.

England spinner Jack Leach took five wickets in the first Test, including three on the final day in Antigua

England spinner Jack Leach took five wickets in the first Test, including three on the final day in Antigua

Leach finished with match bowling figures of 5-136, taking two wickets in the first innings and three in the second, but a deeper dig reveals just how valuable those contributions were, particularly on a pitch which offered little for the bowlers on either team.

His 43.3 overs in the West Indies’ first innings saw him produce a miserly economy rate of just 1.81 runs per over, along with sending down 20 maidens. The 30-year-old’s economy barely went above that in the second innings either, at 1.88.

An indication of the impact he was having came from the fact Root threw him the new ball after the West Indies were set 286 to win and on another day he could have easily had more than three second-innings wickets if fortune had favoured him. Nevertheless, this was just what Leach needed after a tough Ashes series.

The bad

Woakes’ overseas woes continue

The difference between Woakes’ bowling record in England and on the road is stark – at home, he is an absolute gun averaging below 23 in Test cricket, better than Stuart Broad and James Anderson. But away from home, that rises to 54. He is significantly less impactful in overseas conditions.

Chris Woakes' Test match bowling record away from home is 54.18

Chris Woakes’ Test match bowling record away from home is 54.18

With Broad and Anderson left out of this tour – a move which has caused consternation in some quarters – Woakes was handed the new ball and had the opportunity to set the tone in West Indies’ first innings. He didn’t take it.

The seamer shipped 23 runs from his first three overs, which came amid a team 10 overs CricViz rated as England’s third-least threatening new-ball burst in the last 10 years. He sprayed the ball both sides of the wicket and West Indies cashed in.

Woakes improved as the innings and indeed the game went on but his away figures can’t really be sugar-coated. If he hoped to quieten the talk about why Broad and Anderson aren’t here and he is, he didn’t really manage it.

Lees out early on Test debut

The opening partnership has been a problematic area for England recently and they unveiled another different one for this Test as Crawley was joined by debutant Alex Lees.

Alex Lees scored four and six on his Test debut and was dismissed by Kemar Roach in both innings

Alex Lees scored four and six on his Test debut and was dismissed by Kemar Roach in both innings

The 28-year-old, long pegged as a potential future England international, earned his first cap having rebuilt his career after moving to Durham – initially on loan in 2018 – from Yorkshire.

A score of 65 in the warm-up match against the President’s XI gave plenty of cause for optimism and Lees scoring a four early on after England had won the toss gave hope he was setting the tone for his innings.

However, he was worked over by the skilful Kemar Roach, suffering near-identical dismissals in each innings as Roach followed a series of out-swingers by winning lbw calls with balls that held their line. At least Lees now knows what’s coming in Barbados!

Lees will get the series to show his credentials with no additional top-order batter in the squad but bowlers will have noted how he has been removed.

Wood injury blow for England

We learnt that without Mark Wood, England’s bowling attack lacks a bit of penetration, I think that is fair to say. Without him, there looks a lack of high quality.

Mark Butcher

Arguably the one positive from an otherwise miserable Ashes series over the winter was the performance of Mark Wood, who took 17 wickets at an average of 26.64 in Australia as the tourists slumped to a 4-0 series defeat.

There were plenty of promising signs from the Durham seamer, too, in the first innings of this match as he bowled with pace and aggression on a fairly lifeless pitch which offered little for the bowlers of either team.

“He is hurting as much as anyone in terms of missing out and not being able to contribute. We have to assess how he is when we get to Barbados.”

Joe Root on Mark Wood

Indeed, the ball he dismissed Kraigg Brathwaite was the fastest to get the West Indies captain out in a Test match, but Wood was limited to just 17 overs, taking 1-45 with an economy rate of 2.64, by the elbow injury he developed which kept him off the field from lunch on day three.

That would turn out to rule him out of the rest of the Test match after he suffered pain from bowling just six balls in the nets ahead of the start of the final day’s play, and it remains to be seen how much of the rest of the tour he will miss.

It adds to England’s concerns over their bowling depth, with Ollie Robinson still not expected to be fit for the second Test despite getting through some work in the nets during in Antigua.

The uncapped duo of Saqib Mahmood and Matthew Fisher are the other seam options in the squad but neither of them possess Wood’s venom.





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