There were two talking points today before play had even started: England’s team selection and Strauss’ decision to bowl first after winning his first toss in four matches. Whilst I understand the decision to play Bresnan, I would not have done so. He is a good bowler and he adds quite a bit to the side, but I don’t think this was the best occasion for him. The conditions actually most suited Graham Onions and I think Steven Finn would have added some very nice variation to the attack. Purely looking at the bowling, both would probably have been better selections, In a way, I think Bresnan’s main qualification is almost his batting. I can certainly see the argument for using batting skill as a tie-breaker of sorts for bowlers, but with Stuart Broad already in the side along with six batsmen and Matt Prior it is rather superfluous. With Bresnan in the side, we comfortably bat down to nine with Swann at ten. That sounds like an argument in favour of Bresnan, of course, and fact that we can bat so deep without seriously compromising our bowling is definitely a good thing. We have seen lower order partnerships either save us or break the back of the opposition many times before. Against the West Indies, however, it’s probably excessive. In my mind, the benefit of playing a stronger bowler is greater than the benefit of extra batting that is probably extraneous anyway. I’d have gone for Finn.
I do, however, agree with Strauss’ decision to bowl first. The pitch is pretty flat, but there was some moisture in it, there was some cloud cover and there was already a strong indication that the West Indies were not going to play a spinner. The Lord’s pitch has been known to actually get better as the match goes on as well, so there was almost nothing to lose by bowling and an opportunity to see if the West Indies would implode.
The Windies did not do so and it is a credit to them. Jimmy Anderson certainly did not make it easy, but the Windies showed some proper application this time and England had to work for a lot of the wickets. The only times we saw the Windies to which we are used was when Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Darren Bravo found themselves at the same end, glaring at each other. It was Shiv’s fault, but Bravo was the man out. Shiv is a great player, but he has had accusations of selfishness levelled at him before and I think we saw a bit of that today. Not only did he make sure he was not the one to pay for his failed calling, he exposed Fidel Edwards in the last over of the day. Edwards did not make it to stumps.
There was also some discussion during the day of Chris Gayle and how much the West Indies theoretically miss him. One would get the impression from listening to people that he would be scoring a century by lunch and keeping the West Indies in the match single-handed. In fact, he only averages 36 in England with one century in 21 innings. In his last six Tests in England he has only passed fifty twice and last time he played at Lord’s he made 28 and nought against an attack that was not as good as the current one. The subject of where he ought to be playing is one for it’s own post, but there is no reason to suspect that the West Indies would be substantially better off in this Test or on this tour with him in the side.
I don’t think the West Indies were particularly poor today. Certainly it was not like what we frequently saw from them against Australia. At the same time, England did not look quite at their best, particularly in the morning session. All the same, England are in the stronger position overnight and deservedly so. They may not have been at their best, but they did play the better cricket over the course of the day. Anderson looked lethal, though that’s nothing unusual, and Broad came back from a poor morning to blow away most of the tail with a combination of fortune and some brilliant deliveries. Today was a case of a very good side playing a fairly poor one. Given how it went, one shudders to think what will happen when England find their stride or the West Indies slip back into their old routine.