Chris Waters - England need to channel history of swift riposte

BEFORE the first Test in Barbados, which West Indies won by 381 runs, Michael Vaughan wrote in his newspaper column: “Winning 3-0 has to be the goal. Let’s go away from this Test team having those weeks when they play poorly and lose like they did against this West Indies team at Headingley in 2017 and against India at Trent Bridge last summer.

England cricket team captain Joe Root speaks during a press conference at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound, Antigua. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

“They are now too good to have those poor weeks.”

Clearly, however, England are not “too good”.

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On the contrary, they are still so bad from time to time that the former England captain was compelled to follow-up with the reflection that the players “do not have the mental strength to fight through tough sessions by working hard” and that “this could end up the worst tour if England continue to play like this”.

Vaughan added: “Only Joe (Root) and Trevor Bayliss can answer why they produce weak performances. It happens every four or five games. When you are rolled for 184 by Pakistan in home conditions at Lord’s, bowled out for 48 in Auckland and 77 in Barbados then the coach and captain have to ask why and look within.”

Good luck getting the answer from the England think-tank.

Bayliss admitted that he was “speechless” after England’s latest debacle, his response to questioning as to why these performances crop up from from time along the lines of “you tell me?”.

“The boys are clearly hurting and I’d be worried if they weren’t,” he offered. “It comes down to showing guts and determination to get through tough periods.”

West Indies' Roston Chase celebrates taking eight wicket against England during day four of the first cricket Test match at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

As sages continue to shake their heads at what transpired at Kensington Oval, where England were undone by pace in the first innings and by non-spin in the second to crash to their joint seventh-heaviest Test defeat in terms of runs, the good news for Bayliss et al going into today’s second Test in Antigua is that we have recently been here before with England.

One of the matches to which Vaughan referred, when England lost by nine wickets to Pakistan at Lord’s last May after being bowled out for 184 in their first innings, was directly followed by a magnificent series-levelling innings triumph at Emerald Headingley. And on the previous occasion that England lost a Test match prior to last week, a dismal 203-run trouncing by India at Trent Bridge last August, they responded with a series-clinching 60-run win against the same opponents in Southampton.

England have “bouncebackability”, as the saying goes.

However, that they are a side prone to as many gremlins as the average IT computer system – have you tried switching it off and switching it back on again, Mr Bayliss? – cannot be disputed.

England’s search for reliable opening batsmen, for example, has hitherto proved no more successful than mankind’s search for an answer to the meaning of life; one wonders, indeed, whether both pursuits are ultimately futile.

Collectively, England’s batting can be exhilarating one minute, execrable the next, with seemingly no warning as to which England will turn up from one day to the next.

Yet to fulfil their stated ambition of becoming world No 1 (they are currently No 3 and West Indies No 8), they must learn to cut out the repeated errors that result in the occasional horror show display.

The “poor weeks” that Vaughan referenced were rarely experienced by the great Australian side of the recent past; ditto the great West Indian team that came before them, with both sides possessing a ruthless streak.

Apart from the all-important ingredient of talent, success at any sport comes down to mental strength, a degree of self-belief, dedication, motivation, discipline and professionalism.

Invariably, the best teams/players make fewer mistakes than those not who are not so good, and when they do make them, they learn quickly, 
a la golf’s Tiger Woods, who recognised that not compounding errors by making another mistake was imperative to reaching the top.

England’s cricketers, however, are making the same mistakes too often to suggest that they have the capacity to become a truly great team, an aspiration further undermined by the fact that James Anderson and Stuart Broad are in the twilight of their careers, with no ready replacement for Anderson in particular.

They are undoubtedly a very good side at best and an entertaining one to watch; rarely, if ever, has an England side been blessed with so many eye-catching batsmen when in glorious flow.

But there is a big difference between eye-catching batsmen and enduring batsmen, those with the ability not just to catch the eye but also to occupy the crease and contribute consistently.

James Vince is an example of a player who has looked the part on numerous occasions at Test level while at the same time looking as though he can never become an integral part of the side, such has been his propensity for sudden 
dismissals that undo his good work.

The size of England’s task in the next few days is exacerbated by the fact that no England team has ever come from behind to win a Test series in the Caribbean, where they have won only one Test series in 51 years (Vaughan’s combination in early 2004).

If they are to buck history in this three-match rubber, which concludes in St Lucia, they cannot afford another “poor week” having proved that they are not yet “too good” to be regarded as anything more than a work in progress.