Joe Root admitted that England “might have got their selection wrong” in the wake of his side’s 381-run drubbing in the first Test against West Indies, but insisted that England would not be deterred from making further bold calls in the future, as they seek that elusive formula for consistent success overseas.
Having talked up the prospect of the No.1 Test ranking in the build-up to the match, England were handed a savage reality check on the fourth day in Barbados, as the offspinner Roston Chase sealed one of the biggest victories in West Indies’ storied history with second-innings figures of 8 for 60.
His efforts followed on from Kemar Roach‘s five-wicket onslaught on the second day, and Jason Holder’s brilliant 202 not out on the third, and left England to reflect on a contest in which they barely competed, outside of James Anderson’s and Ben Stokes’ hard-earned wickets in the first innings, and a well-compiled 84 from Rory Burns in the fourth.
“It’s very difficult to explain and very hard to take,” Root told Sky Sports. “The guys will be hurting up there [in the dressing room] and desperate to put that right straightaway in Antigua [for the second Test].
“We’re going to have to work really hard going into that game,” he added. “We’re fully aware that’s not a good enough performance at this level, aand we’re determined to bounce back hard.”
The magnitude of England’s beating brought a screeching halt to their run of five consecutive Test wins – and eight victories in their last nine Tests, dating back to the Pakistan Test at Headingley last June.
And, having finished their last overseas engagement, in Sri Lanka in November, on a high with a 3-0 clean sweep, this performance was a throwback to their pitiful display in the first Test in Auckland last year, when – straight off the back of a 4-0 Ashes drubbing – they were bowled out for 58 en route to an innings-and-49-run thrashing.
“It’s not the same team, or the same players as Auckland, but these guys have got to learn very quickly,” said Root. “It’s frustrating, and we’re hurting, but it doesn’t make us a bad team overnight. We’ve got to remember all the good stuff, we’ve won a lot of Test matches recently and played some good stuff, so that has to stay with us. We need to retain that belief and fight that we showed with the ball and in the field.”
Long before the final margin of defeat had been confirmed, most of the criticism of England’s performance centred around the balance of their attack – specifically the decision to omit the veteran Stuart Broad in favour of the allrounder Sam Curran, and – having decided on two spinners to West Indies’ one – to play the legspin of Adil Rashid ahead of the greater control offered by Jack Leach.
While Root would not be drawn into the specifics of Broad’s non-selection, he did concede that hindsight had got the better of his decision this time.
“We looked at that wicket and we thought that was an attack would take 20 wickets on that surface,” he said. “And with the depth of that batting, you’d back them to score a lot more runs than that.
“It’s easy to read a pitch after four days of cricket, but speaking to a number of guys, they were very unsure of what to expect,” he added. “No-one would have predicted the scores to pan out as they have done.”
The chosen XI was very similar to the one that performed so well before Christmas, as Root was at pains to point out.
“This winter, we’ve gone to Sri Lanka and done things very differently to how we’ve done in the past, and we’ve seen it work,” he said. “We’ve been bold, we’ve made some strong selections, and we’ve reaped the rewards for that over there. We’ve done similar here and it’s not paid off.
“You have to be realistic that when you are trying to find ways of winning away from home, which is very difficult in this modern era, you are going to get it wrong some times.
“I hold my hand up, we might have got it wrong on this occasion, but we shouldn’t be scared of trying things and finding ways of winning that we wouldn’t have done in the past.”
Rashid, in particular, was a spare part for much of the match – wicketless in the first innings and restricted to just nine overs in the second, even when West Indies were in such command on the third afternoon that the decision to throw the ball back to Anderson and Stokes seemed both futile in the short term and damaging to England’s series hopes in the long term.
Root, however, said it would be unfair to suggest that he didn’t trust Rashid’s bowling.
“He was trying, it just wasn’t working for him in that initial spell,” he said. “We were looking at other ways of taking wickets, we tried everything, because there was no way were we going to give in and wait for a declaration. We were doing everything we could to take wickets and get batting as quickly as possible. Unfortunately it didn’t happen.”
With just five days to regroup ahead of the second Test in Antigua, Root admitted his team faced another big test of their character, in a region where they have won just one Test series in 51 years.
“We were miles off where we are as a side this week, but it’ll show our strength of character to come back from that,” he said. “That’s something we’ve never hidden away from, but we’ve got to make sure we are a far better side when we go to Antigua, and that our minds are very switched on.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @miller_cricket
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.