A worrying trend
It's becoming habitual and a real cause for worry just when West Indies appeared to be on a gradual upward curve. England's 569 for 6 was their fourth declared first-innings total over 540 in the last five Tests between the teams, following their 566 for 9 at the ARG, 600 for 6 at Kensington and 546 for 6 at Queen's Park Oval in the preceding series.
It is a sequence created, in part, by bland pitches and faulty catching. Both featured prominently again here with the usually reliable Denesh Ramadin, clearly favouring a painful right hand sustained in the first Test, enduring a horrid time. But just as significant is the bowling's general lack of penetration and control and, in this match, its indiscipline.
They combine to progressively diminish confidence, a vital element for any sporting team, especially one with a record as shaky as the present West Indies. They now depend hugely for their wickets on Fidel Edwards. His record of eight innings returns of five wickets or more in 42 Tests are proof of his effectiveness.
Like so many bowlers with an unconventional action he doesn't always get it right. So it was here when he sprayed the ball around, sent down 14 no-balls and, strangely, reserved his hostility for the night-watchman, James Anderson, rather than those at the top of the order on the first morning. Normally, such a strike bowler would be reserved for short bursts. Yesterday, Chris Gayle kept him going for just over an hour and a half covering 11 consecutive overs - 12 counting his no-balls. It was a case of overkill.
At their best, he and Jerome Taylor make a formidable pace combination but Taylor has not been himself since his awesome 5 for 11 spell at Sabina Park in February that sent England tumbling to 51 all out and defeat. The hip complaint that eventually kept him out of the final Test in the Caribbean might be the cause. His rhythm is not the same and his speed is correspondingly down. The West Indies need the real Jerome Taylor back.
Lionel Baker, still feeling his way at the highest level, is short of the pace and without the swing to discomfort international batsmen on true surfaces. There may come a time when he more regularly produces the sharp, perfectly pitched off-cutter that knocked back Ravi Bopara's off-stump late on the first day. At the moment, there are too many loose deliveries in his repertoire. There is a case for another bowler of genuine pace and hostility, in other words Nelon Pascal. He was chosen for this tour for experience and, from all reports, has been decidedly fast and aggressive in the lead-up matches.
At last, Sulieman Benn has convinced wary selectors that there is a need for the diversity of spin. His height gives him the advantage of bounce and he is varying his pace and flight and introducing his arm ball with increasing certainty. A recognition that his role on unresponsive surfaces such as those he encountered in the Caribbean outside of Sabina and here is principally containment would add to his value.
Of course, they would all be seen to better advantage and totals would be kept to manageable proportions with the cooperation of their keeper and fielders. More chances were missed yesterday, six in all increasing the number in just two Tests to a dozen. It was a repeat of the Barbados Test when England's 660 for 6 would have been no more than 350 had the catches stuck.
No wonder Ravi Bopara and others have prospered. They can expect no such generosity from Australia later in the season, the series for which England regards this as a warm-up.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years