THE whitewash of Sri Lanka felt like a new dawn for the England cricket team, but it has not taken long for darkness to descend.
Hopes of following the 3-0 triumph on the sub-continent with another in the Caribbean have been buried beneath the rubble of a crude reality check.
If there is to be a whitewash in the current series, it will be administered not by England, but by the West Indies.
The No 8-ranked side in the world have completely outplayed the No 3-ranked team; no-one would begrudge them – or be surprised by – a third win in the final Test that starts in St Lucia on Saturday.
If England’s 381-run defeat in Barbados was bad enough, the joint seventh-heaviest defeat by a runs margin in their history, then the 10-wicket towelling sustained in Antigua was hardly much better.
Once again, England were dismal with the bat and devoid of the requisite application for five-day cricket, collapsing to 132 all-out in their second innings after they had been bowled out for 187 first time around.
In total, England batted for just 103.1 overs in a game that finished inside three days.
West Indies batted for longer (131 overs) for their first innings score of 306, which left them just 14 runs for victory, John Campbell sealing the match – and the series – with a six off James Anderson over square-leg.
After West Indies’ first series triumph against a major Test nation since 2012, when they beat New Zealand, there are two conclusions that can fairly be drawn: first, that many people under-estimated West Indies and, second, that many over-estimated England.
For so long riven by political in-fighting, a la Yorkshire County Cricket Club in the 70s and 80s, the West Indies are clearly a re-emerging force under captain Jason Holder, who has led by example a talented young team.
Once again, England were dismal with the bat and devoid of the requisite application for five-day cricket, collapsing to 132 all-out in their second innings after they had been bowled out for 187 first time around.Chris Waters
They have a fine quartet of pace bowlers in Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph and Holder, with other young quicks waiting in the wings, plus batsmen who can not only play with Caribbean flair, but also get their heads down when needed.
Indeed, despite a pitch at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium that favoured bowlers, with some balls rearing up off a length and others keeping low, the West Indies effectively beat England at their own game – or at least the old English game, epitomised by the battling qualities of batsmen such as Geoffrey Boycott, Michael Atherton and Alastair Cook.
Who, in the present England line-up, could be relied on to bat for a day or more a la that trio, to grind it out when the going gets tough and, if necessary, to score ugly runs?
Who, for that matter, could replicate even what Darren Bravo did in the West Indies first innings by occupying the crease for 216 balls en route to the slowest half-century for West Indies in Tests, a performance of courage, character and common sense?
Instead, England went down in a blaze of un-glory, with batsmen perishing to expansive drives and careless shots out of keeping with the match situation, one which demanded a patient approach.
They did what they often do in such circumstances, stubbornly insisting that attack is the only form of defence. The batting, it almost goes without saying, is the biggest bar to England’s hopes of becoming world No 1, an aspiration no closer to fulfilment on the grim evidence of the past fortnight.
England arrived in the Caribbean with continuing question marks over the make-up of their top-three batting, for example, and they will leave with arguably even more question marks, still not having a ‘scooby do’ what their best team is or the most effective order.
Increasingly, it is clear, no-one has the answer – not captain Joe Root, coach Trevor Bayliss nor selector Ed Smith.
In some respects, one sympathises for all are victims to a certain degree. If the England and Wales Cricket Board were really serious about giving them the best chance of succeeding at Test level, if they were serious about Test cricket in general as opposed to following concepts such as The Hundred, they would not have allowed the County Championship pathway to wither and work against the fortunes of the Test team.
What does one think will happen, for example, when the Championship is shoehorned into the months of April and September to make room for more white-ball cricket, allowing dibbly-dobbly bowlers to wreak havoc on seaming pitches that are often of questionable quality?
In the county system, in fact, batsmen can go weeks, months, without playing a first-class innings, while it is clear that one-day cricket has changed the psyche of the modern player per se, as well as turned too many heads in a financial sense.
This is not the fault of Root, Bayliss and Smith, but of the system itself, and of the powers-that-be who perpetuate the problem.
It might reasonably be said, in fact, that we have the Test team we deserve – one constructed on creaking foundations.
For answers to the issue we must look closer to home, to the ECB and a county system not fit for producing Test cricketers.