Strictly speaking one would probably say that England overall played better today than they did in the last match. But sat here after watching the last session it is hard to believe.
England selected an unchanged XI from the last Test and whilst I can understand the logic of not changing a winning side and whilst I know that Bresnan bowled well here last year it was a mistake. Bresnan was poor in the last Test, contributing little with the ball and nothing with the bat. With two perfectly good bowlers waiting in the wings, Strauss and Flower decided to give him another chance. He did bowl better when the ball was relatively new; his pace seemed to be up and he was troubling the batsmen. But the lack of variation in the attack caused by not having Finn showed. Bresnan lost his edge as the ball got old and was entirely ineffective thereafter. This is not to say the West Indies did not bat well, they certainly did. Marlon Samuels was very patient throughout his innings and was not troubled by the loss of Chanderpaul or Ramdin. Darren Sammy finally decided to bat sensibly instead of throwing his bat at everything and was rewarded with his highest ever Test score and still at a good rate. He struck the perfect balance of being positive without being reckless.
Bresnan, supposed to get wickets at the best of times and contain at the worst could do neither after the ball got old. It is true that the pitch was flat, but he was doing little better than Trott. It was simply all too easy for the West Indies; at tea they were 154-6, by the time the new ball was taken 23 overs later they were 260-6. Not only did England throw away a good position with toothless bowling in that time, they made it difficult for themselves with the new ball as the batsmen were very well set by the time it was taken. Sammy had some luck against Jimmy Anderson, but it was not a case of the West Indies clinging on either.
It is impossible to say whether this would have been better with Finn, but it is very unlikely that it could have been any worse. Finn was dropped from the Test team in the first place because he was too expensive, but today Bresnan went at almost four an over including the tighter spells he bowled before tea. In any case, Finn has improved his bowling since the last time he was in the side and there is every reason to suspect he might be a bit tighter now. Even if not, however, he has always had a knack for taking wickets and that is what England need. The pitch was flat, but fairly quick. Finn’s height gives him awkward bounce and the West Indians were already having trouble when Anderson or Broad bowled it short. There is no way adding that sort of variation could have made things worse for England than they turned out to be and a very good argument for why it might have been better. This selection error must be rectified at Edgbaston.
England are not in a poor position by any means. They did enough with the first new ball (helped by some injudicious strokeplay and poor footwork from the West Indies top order) that even their horror show of an evening session has only put the match back to about level terms. The plan will no doubt be to regroup overnight and attack the West Indies with a still fairly new ball tomorrow morning when they have to reset themselves. It may or may not work, but if it does and the West Indies fail to get 350 then England can still be pleased. The pitch has been described as one where 400 is a par score so England need not yet worry about the overall match situation, especially with a 1-0 lead in the series. Strauss and Flower absolutely must heed the lessons of this evening session, however, and England must play better tomorrow to seize an advantage.