It is rare that the England wagon runs entirely smoothly. But, from preamble to postscript, this Caribbean tour had it lurching over cobblestones and rutted tracks, the players almost incidental to dramas in the background. The series was honourably shared, though there was dishonour in England's capitulation in the final Test at Bridgetown, following a draw in Antigua which they had dominated, and a hard-earned victory in Grenada, inspired by Jimmy Anderson.
But, for West Indies - largely shorn of their IPL fortune-seekers, and with a new coach, Phil Simmons, who had already made his mark with Ireland - there were signs of genuine promise. Yet, while the players zigzagged from island to island, subplots dictated the agenda. In March, following England's ignominious exit from the World Cup, ECB chairman-elect Colin Graves suggested - in a parody of the comedian Harry Enfield's blunt Yorkshireman "saying what I like, and liking what I say" - that there would be "inquiries" if the Test team could not beat a "mediocre" West Indies.
Without having the same undertones as Tony Greig's infamous "grovel" remark in 1976, it nonetheless resonated in the Caribbean, and was pinned up in the West Indies dressing-room to serve as a motivational tool. After they took the final Test by five wickets, captain Denesh Ramdin might have been "Yeah Graves, Talk Nah", an echo of his message to Viv Richards at Edgbaston in 2012. Graves later said he stood by his words, claiming he was happy to be proved wrong.
Be that as it may, Graves's remarks were only a precursor. Five days before the First Test Paul Downton was sacked, only 14 months into his role as managing director - even as he was preparing to fly to the West Indies. It was part of a restructuring process, led by the ECB's new chief executive Tom Harrison, that would result in the appointment of the former captain Andrew Strauss to a more specific position as director of the England team.
This, in turn, would result in the sacking of head coach Peter Moores, which had something to do with the defeat in Barbados, but rather more to do with the World Cup. Some felt Moores might have been saved had England been bolder in selection for the final Test, where Adam Lyth, Adil Rashid - two of six Yorkshiremen in the squad - and Mark Wood were denied debuts. But the decision had long been made: as Strauss was to point out, each match had become a referendum on the coach, which was not fair on anyone.
Concerns remained about the make-up of the team. Reasons to be encouraged in the longer term were tempered by other, more immediate, issues - the identity of Alastair Cook's opening partner, an effective third seamer, and the quality of the spin bowling. An attempt to resurrect the career of Jonathan Trott - who had not played for England since being laid low by stress in Brisbane in November 2013 - by converting him into an opener was fraught with risk.
Perhaps Trott felt he had something to prove, which was not the case. He had a horrible time against the new ball, a specially developed Dukes suitable for more abrasive overseas pitches, and used brilliantly by Jerome Taylor. Trott selflessly offered to stand down before the final Test, and the manner of his first-innings dismissal there, bounced out in uncompromising fashion by Shannon Gabriel, was the sad clincher. One half-century in six innings - and three ducks - did not reflect his service to the side since his Test debut in 2009.
He announced his retirement from international cricket the day after the series ended, but the advancement of Lyth had been delayed by three matches. The late arrival of Moeen Ali, recovering from a side strain picked up at the World Cup, meant James Tredwell was England's spinner in the First Test, where he acquitted himself better in the first innings than the second. Hindsight says Ali needed to bowl more before returning for the last two games in which Joe Root looked the most threatening. There had been a clamour for the inclusion of leg-spinner Rashid after a successful season with Yorkshire, but his performances in South Africa with the Lions, and during one of the warmup matches in St Kitts, were not encouraging. He was thought to lack the capacity to bowl at a pace appropriate to Tests.
The third seamer's spot was filled by Chris Jordan, a diligent cricketer and a stunning slip fielder, especially off the spinners. His bowling progressed significantly, with a smoother run-up more in keeping with his natural athleticism, and a high action, but he still lacked a cutting edge. The pace attack was held together by the brilliance of Anderson: in Antigua he overtook Ian Botham's England-record 383 Test wickets, and contributed a match-winning spell in Grenada; 17 wickets at 18 apiece earned him his third successive Man of the Series award. Stuart Broad, though, was patchy, too frequently down on speed. It was hard to tell whether he was deliberately holding something back on slow pitches, or simply out of kilter. Only one spell, in Grenada, bucked the trend, and Broad was as guilty as any in failing to polish off West Indies' lower order on the last afternoon in Antigua.
There, Jason Holder announced himself as a Test cricketer of serious worth, saving the match with an unbeaten maiden century, to follow Jermaine Blackwood's in the first innings. Those hundreds, combined with one apiece for Kraigg Brathwaite and Marlon Samuels, plus 11 wickets at 18 for the nippy Taylor, kept West Indies competitive. For the 40-year-old Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a haul of 92 runs at 15 cost him his place in the two-Test series at home to Australia; after 21 years at the highest level, the end seemed nigh.
England's batting was a mixed bag, too, with centuries from Ian Bell and Gary Ballance in Antigua, Root in Grenada, and Cook in Barbados, but with old-school collapses thrown in - most damagingly when they slipped to 39 for five on the second evening of the Barbados Test. Bell's hundred was followed by 12 runs in four innings, concluding with a pair. But Root continued his wonderful form since being dropped at Sydney at the start of 2014, scoring 358 runs at almost 90, while Ballance's solidity brought him 331 at 66. There was promise of better things to come from Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes, who ought to have learned plenty after being wound up to breaking point by Marlon Samuels; the mock salute with which Samuels greeted his demise in Grenada was a rare example of a genuinely funny send-off.
There were signs that Cook had started to regain the synchronicity of movement that had been lacking over the previous two years, and he was able to concentrate fully on the bowling rather than his technique. If his pre-World Cup sacking as one-day captain was controversial, it allowed him to focus once more on what he did best. The benefit was evident as he overcame a double failure in Antigua to make 244 runs in Grenada and Barbados, where he ended the long spell without a Test hundred. His alignment improved through opening his stance a little, and he rediscovered his immaculate judgment outside off stump. The century was both timely and cathartic, a return to his best, although his uncharacteristic dismissal in the final over of the opening day destabilised the innings. Harsh though it sounds, it was a factor in the collapse the following morning - and England's ultimate defeat.
Match reports for
Tour Match: St Kitts Invitational XI v England XI at Basseterre, Apr 8-9, 2015