England’s latest dismal defeat won’t be the start of Test improvements even if Joe Root resigns



If ever there was a time to think of the England and Wales Cricket Board solely as a commercial operation, this was it. Because the last resort of any struggling organisation that way inclined is to rebrand and still provide the same lacklustre service.

The Red Ball Reset was supposed to be change to believe in. A step beyond the line in the sand, where previous errors were not to be forgotten (though we were encouraged to forget about them) for the benefit of this new age. One where Test cricket, red ball cricket, was important again. Not because the only way was up – even though it was – but out of willing. Never mind that a lot of the same protagonists prevail. This was about simply being better. Being the best England men’s cricket team they could be, give or take a couple of people who tried to – and at times, did – make it that way.

Yet, of course, here England are, nursing a Test series defeat to West Indies rounded out in the most uninspired way possible. Both teams returned on day four to complete the formalities of a 10-wicket win, the post-match engagements lasting longer than the 16.1 overs of play needed for the result on Saturday. After two Tests on easy batting wickets in Antigua and Barbados, the first of any trouble in Grenada had them out of sorts. In two innings, batters one to seven managed just 127 runs between them, and were it not for the tail, who knows how desperate this would have been.

For the first time in their history, the men’s side have gone winless in five consecutive series, all in very similar circumstances. Some at home, some away, all down to batting and bowling (mostly batting) frailties.

Worst of all is how conditioned we all are to this. England rightly sit bottom of the World Test Championship despite charting near the top when it comes to financial might. As much as some may use this defeat to preach of the lack of focus towards long-form cricket, these are some of the most privileged players in the world when it comes to pay and opportunity.

And that has been the case for a long while. Which makes this juncture all the more frustrating. Because there is no remedy beyond yet more changes to personnel.

Joe Root should step down as captain, because why not, but probably will not because, well, what would that change? Another man flittering between heads and tails at the start and reaching for positives at the end might hit a different octave but certainly won’t strike a different note. Paul Collingwood probably shouldn’t get the job given this interim period has shown no change, as expected for someone part of the previous regime. Then again, how much could he have changed in the two months between this and the humiliation in the Ashes?

Beyond your favourite players, is there anyone who could have come in and made a difference out in the middle? Is Sam Billings the saviour? Can Josh Bohannon really exorcise two years of demons? And would the fear of returning early to a dressing room with Anderson and Broad have really kept England’s batters out there for longer? The England Test side is locked in this purgatory of unanswerable questions and questionable ones.

The only absolute seems to be that Root’s tenure as captain should come to an end. Even as Root staunchly stated otherwise in his media engagements in Grenada, the overriding feeling was of a man convincing himself to do the admirable thing. There are few other replacements, but he certainly doesn’t need this. And it’s hard to say the team will miss his leadership beyond the bat. Ben Stokes, for all the counter-arguments on behalf of his workload, would be an effective replacement.

The deck will be shuffled again, just as it was after the tour of Australia. This time with degrees of permanency. By the time the Test side square convene for action again in June, there might be a new captain but certainly a full-time coach and a managing director. Both will have their ideas to take things forward and preach a new direction (up, presumably, given there’s nowhere else to go).

But results are unlikely to change. The pool of players will remain the same, so too the system and coaches that guide them. Encounters with New Zealand, India, South Africa and Pakistan present the very real prospect of another miserable year.

All this “perhaps” thinking brings us to one uncomfortable absolute: That England are quite simply not a good Test team.

Ineffective overseas, not good enough to make home advantage count. Unimaginative and stale. Unable to win the staring contests or the mad dashes contained within the longest format.

And to accept all that is to accept another absolute. That while the white ball sides thrive and The Hundred expands in a previously impregnable market space, the ECB, deep down, are probably not that bothered by the current malaise beyond the expected public admonishments of well-paid employees underperforming.

As much as Test cricket has been the cornerstone of the English game, it isn’t anymore. The actions over the last few years, never mind the last 24 hours, show as much.



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