Wicketkeeper Ben Foakes would not argue if he became the fall guy for England‘s dismal performance in Barbados, with places on the line for this week’s second Test.
A bruising 381-run defeat in Bridgetown stopped Joe Root’s side in their tracks after their 3-0 whitewash over Sri Lanka before Christmas, a trip which saw Foakes announce himself in style at international level.
Initially arriving as cover for the injured Jonny Bairstow, Foakes struck a stylish century on debut, showed exemplary glovework throughout and walked away as man of the series.
In normal circumstances that would be enough to buy a long, unquestioned stint in the side but the manner and scale of the loss have raised questions over the balance of the XI in Antigua.
The continued presence of Bairstow, not to mention limited-overs keeper Jos Buttler, in the top six means there are plentiful options behind the stumps and though Foakes is widely acknowledged as the best of the three, his removal would allow England to re-balance with an additional bowling option.
Whether Root and head coach Trevor Bayliss are considering that seemingly harsh course of action remains to be seen but, after contributing just seven runs in two knocks at the Kensington Oval, the Surrey man is already one step ahead of them.
“I didn’t perform last game, so I couldn’t sit there and say ‘why did you drop me?’,” he said.
“I did really well in Sri Lanka and I completely want to play the next game but we lost by 300-odd runs and if a change is needed, a change is needed.
“You can’t think ‘am I going to get picked; am I not going to get picked?’ It will drive you crazy. If I get the nod, I get the nod.
“You know you’re going to have ups and down. No-one is ever going to be perfect throughout their career or throughout a series.”
Regarding @englandcricket - can we all just take a moment to respect Ben Foakes. In this game he’s kept for 204 overs and let past just the one bye. Wow!— Edward Wilson (@Eddie_Wils109) January 25, 2019
Bairstow, despite taking up the challenge of filling the problem position at number three has made no secret of the fact that he would reclaim the gloves in a heartbeat.
The Yorkshireman is fiercely proud of the improvements in his keeping in recent years and considers it part of his cricketing identity. He continues to train hard on that discipline, supporting Foakes but also pressing his own case.
“It’s a unique situation but it’s fine, there’s no awkwardness,” said Foakes.
“I didn’t think I’d be in Sri Lanka, then I thought I would have one game and then Jonny would be back. I don’t want to say I feel lucky to be here, but things have fallen into place and it’s just up to me to take the opportunity.”
The Barbados Test was Foakes’ first taste of defeat in an England shirt, as it was for Surrey team-mate Sam Curran.
After the consistent highs of Sri Lanka, it was a new and unwelcome experience.
“We were completely outplayed but it was one of those games where I felt not much went our way. It was a bit of a freakish game,” he explained.
“I’d say that, throughout the whole game, there was never a stage where that dressing room didn’t feel we could win the game. That may sound crazy if you look at the scoreboard, but there was always that determination to win. But something is not right if you’re getting beaten by that much.”
England will ponder changes “in a number of positions” following their first Test thrashing in Barbados, with head coach Trevor Bayliss admitting opener Keaton Jennings is increasingly vulnerable.
After winning eight of their previous nine matches, including a rare overseas whitewash of Sri Lanka, England began 2019 with a 381-run humbling by the West Indies.
Their batsman were largely responsible, bowled out for 77 in the first-innings before allowing a second-tier spinner in Roston Chase to claim A-lister’s figures of eight for 60 in the second. All the while their own attack looked ill-judged, with Adil Rashid and Sam Curran failing to justify their selections.
Bayliss was taken aback by the flimsy nature of the performance and will respond by examining the make-up of the XI for next week’s clash in Antigua.
“We will have some thinking to do in a number of positions,” he said.
“We will sit down, have a chat with the guys and try to get to the bottom of it. It’s not the first time that we’ve succumbed in a short space of time. The boys are in the dressing room hurting, I’d be worried if they weren’t.
“I think it gets down to a bit of guts and determination to get through those tough periods. They bowled extremely well against us, but when a team bowls extremely well against us we have got to be able to deal with it. Every time we lose a wicket it (feels like) the beginning of a collapse.”
Stuart Broad appears highly likely to return at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, his surprise omission in Bridgetown failing to pay off, while pace pair Chris Woakes and Mark Wood and left-arm spinner Jack Leach will also be looking for a chance.
It was, though, the batting that let England down most in the series opener.
Jennings is under most pressure, with knocks of 17 and 14 dragging his Test average down to 25.86. It is just four Tests since he scored a fine, unbeaten 146 in Galle, but the Lancashire batsman’s only successes have come in Asia and pace bowling remains an issue.
Bayliss’ outlook has typically been a forgiving one towards out-of-form batsmen, with his stated policy of preferring one chance too many to one chance too few.
The difference between Chase's actual wickets (8) & expected wickets (1.38) is the second largest positive difference ever recorded by a bowler in an innings in our database. The most is +6.72 by Stuart Broad in the first innings at Trent Bridge v Australia in 2015. #WIvENG https://t.co/efQgfuvtlF— The Cricket Prof. (@CricProf) January 26, 2019
And while that may buy Jennings one more opportunity, keeping Joe Denly’s Test debut on hold, there is no denying his performances have become a concern.
“Keaton is struggling a little bit,” admitted Bayliss.
“I’d be lying if I said we’re not worried about it and I’d be lying if I said he hadn’t been thinking about it. He’s one of the hardest workers we’ve got and he’s going to leave no stone unturned in making it better. Let’s wait and see.”
The verdict on Rory Burns, Jennings’ rookie opening partner, was better. His score of 84 on Saturday was his best in eight Test knocks to date and Bayliss likes what he is seeing.
“Burns has shown enough,” said the Australian.
“As we said in Sri Lanka he looks like he’s been here for 20 or 30 Tests, not four. He’s still learning and will still get better.
Bayliss also took a moment to support Curran. The 20-year-old all-rounder impressed as he won each of his first seven Tests but had a rough time on new ball duty at the Kensington Oval, taking one for 123.
“It was down to Curran or Broad and the gut feel was Curran,” he added.
“It didn’t work out, the young bloke has had the first bad Test in his career. It won’t be his last, but he’s a good young player who will learn from it.”
Windies openers John Campbell and Kraigg Brathwaite added 53 for the first wicket before off-spinner Moeen Ali dismissed debutant Campbell who made a brisk 44.
Ben Stokes then took two quick wickets before Shai Hope scored a fifty. James Anderson removed Hope to reduce Windies to 174-4.
England preferred Sam Curran and Adil Rashid to Stuart Broad and Jack Leach. The selection represented a blow for Broad, who has now been left out for rising star Curran in three of England’s last four Tests after a decade as first-choice.
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