After eight long months, England's agonising winless run in the Test arena finally ended in Grenada. A humiliating, confidence-sapping sequence of one consecutive draw, interspersed with zero victories, can now be consigned to history, thanks to a fine victory on a pitch that had all the life and vivacity of a granite tortoise in an industrial freezer. The West Indies, as they tend to be, had been sporadically good and sporadically much less good for the first nine days of the series. Finally, they cracked. Anderson battered the door down with his fifth-morning brilliance. Then West Indies helped out by ripping the remnants of the door off its hinges.
It has been a curious time for England's cricket. Memories of recent victories have been swamped by subsequent failures - the 2013 Ashes a brief introductory note in the still-repercussing saga of the 2013-14 demolition that followed; the 2014 come-from-behind victory over India largely swamped by the deluge of administrative and sporting ineptitude that constituted England's alleged World Cup campaign.
All this is understandable, and to some extent justifiable - the magnitude of the failures was staggering, given the quality of players and extent of resources supporting them, and arguably the victories had come with certain asterisks attached, such as the chaos of the 2013 Australians at the sudden start of the Lehmann era, and the seemingly unstaunchable rubbishness of Dhoni's India in overseas Tests. They were good victories. But…
Following on from last week's multiple-choice question on the Antigua Test, here is Question Two of How Will England's Tour Be Viewed In Future:
Which of the following best expressed what people will think of the Grenada Test win come the end of England's logistically inexplicable 17-Test marathon?
(a) A crucial staging post on the journey of a new and improving team continuing to find its feet and identity, featuring the re-establishment of Alastair Cook as an immovable top-order bulwark feared by all who prepare to bowl at his miraculously sweatless brow. Cook well knows that runs against West Indies are no guarantee of success against Australia - he scored almost 600 in England's six Tests away and home against West Indies in 2009, before managing only 222 at 24 in that summer's Ashes Ashes, one of four Ashes series in which he has averaged under 30 - but with a settled team and increasing tactical positivity, his batting will return to its former levels.
(b) An enjoyable and praiseworthy victory of no particularly long-term relevance - a reasonable team outplaying an inferior one. It offered proof only that Cook can still score runs on a flat, slow pitch, against a team that is justifiably ranked eighth (very eighth), whose one proven bowler is patently short of fitness, and which is unable to apply the constant probing pressure to which the England captain has so often fallen victim. When Marlon Samuels bowls almost one-third of the overs in an attempt to bowl a team out in the fourth innings, no one should be over-excited about anything - that is the equivalent of a chess player chipping his king off the board with a nine-iron, and saying, "I'm bored of this silly game, let's go to the pub."
(c) The slingshot that will blast England back to the top of the Test rankings, presaging an unstoppable deluge of power cricket that will sweep aside not just the improving West Indies, but also New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan and South Africa.
(d) Proof that Kevin Pietersen should be playing - they would have won by lunch on day three if he had been.
(e) Proof that the 2013-14 Ashes and the World Cup were CIA hoaxes, filmed in a studio in Texas.
(f) A bit of (a) and a bit of (b).
The answer will be revealed in January next year. Show your working.
One of the key factors will be the performances of Joe Root, who has developed a useful habit of catapulting himself into illustrious statistical company.
His maiden Test hundred in 2013 added him to the list of England Test Centurions Aged Under 23, the previous additions to which were Cook, Atherton, Gower, Botham, Cowdrey, May, Bill Edrich, Compton and Hutton. (Stokes has since also joined that statistically Himalayan collective.) Root's undefeated 182 in Grenada gained him membership of an even more exclusive club - Test batsmen with four scores of 150 and over before their 25th birthday. Graeme Smith was the most recent to achieve this feat before the Yorkshireman, and went on to score 9265 Test runs at an average of 48.2, with 27 hundreds.
To put this list in context, Smith, a magnificent player and one of the most influential cricketers of the age, is arguably the worst batsman on the list. Before him came Jayawardene (11,814 runs, 49.8 average, 34 centuries), Tendulkar (15,921, 53.7, 51), Javed Miandad (8832, 52.5, 23), Viv Richards (8540, 50.2, 24), Garfield Sobers (8032, 57.7, 26), Neil Harvey (6149, 48.4, 21), and Don Bradman (6996, 99.9, 29).
"When Marlon Samuels bowls almost one-third of the overs in an attempt to bowl a team out in the fourth innings, no one should be over-excited about anything"
Those are some names and numbers for Root to live up to. Only Harvey did not find himself in his nation's ESPNcricinfo All-Time XI, and four of them (Bradman, Tendulkar, Richards and Sobers) made it into the All-Time World XI. And, one assumes, the All-Time Universe XI too. Those all-time teams were selected by this website, which makes them unarguable and eternal facts.
It will be fascinating to see how Root's year progresses. He appears to have the technique, temperament, range of shots and variety of batting gears to be one of the finest players of his era, but for a player who has earned positions in such illustrious statistical company, and who has scored 2000 runs and six hundreds in 24 Tests, he remains oddly unproven.
Due to England's disappointingly quirky Ashes-skewed recent calendar, he has not faced South Africa or Pakistan. He has played only one Test in Asia, on a Nagpur pitch that made Grenada's surface last week look like an unplayable minefield. He has passed 30 only three times in 18 innings against Australia, and, aside from the latter stages of his Lord's 180 (more than half of which were scored off the bowling of Steven Smith and Ashton Agar as Australia awaited a declaration), has never really played fluently against them. He failed in New Zealand.
These struggles were long ago in the context of his brief career. He has since scored important runs, brilliantly, often in awkward situations. He has the confidence of sustained success, and is far better equipped to succeed now than he was in 2013. But as for the achievements of his team-mates - Gary Ballance's voracious run-harvesting, Cook's returning solidity, Jonathan Trott's half-century, Stuart Broad's and James Anderson's wickets, and the rest - and as for the team as a whole, after a magnificent win against a non-magnificent opposition, Root's current brilliance awaits context. Tests 4-17 of this testing Testathon will define this phase of England's cricket; Tests 1-3 will be judged in that context. The prospects look infinitely brighter than when England hoicked their way to defeat at Lord's last summer, but Time, the secretive little tease that it is, will tell.
● Kolkata, December 2012, was the last time that Jimmy Anderson took five or more wickets in an overseas Test. He has taken at least two, but never more than four, wickets in each of the ten away Tests England have played between Kolkata and Grenada, taking 32 wickets at an average of 37. Not disastrously ineffective but also not the figures of an all-time great.
After taking four expensive wickets in Dunedin two years ago, he managed more than two only once in 16 away innings, when his 4 for 67 helped England gain a first-innings lead in Melbourne, before normal carnage was resumed in the second innings. Kolkata had been the seventh time in his last 14 away Tests that Anderson had taken five or more in the match, dating back to the start of the 2009-10 series in South Africa.
Kolkata 2012 was also the last time that Alastair Cook scored more than 72 in the first innings of an away Test. His 190 in that game remains his most recent first-innings Test century anywhere, and in his ten first innings outside England in between Kolkata and Grenada, he had reached 30 once (72 in Perth), scored 20 on only one other occasion (27 in Melbourne), and been out for less than 20 eight times. (By Anderson-mirroring contrasting, in the 15 away Tests up to and including Kolkata, Cook had scored six first-innings hundreds (four of them at least 148) and four further half-centuries.)
It is not the most gargantuan of surprises that your opening batsman scoring runs and your opening bowler taking wickets are useful ingredients when attempting to concoct a Test-match victory. You can make a decent fried breakfast without bacon and eggs. But it helps to have them.
● It is not only England's youngsters who are carving their names into cricket's statistical Stonehenge. After making his debut at 18, Kraigg Brathwaite interspersed dogged half-centuries with regular ducks on his way to becoming only the fourth player in Test history, and the first specialist batsman, to bag six Test noughts before the age of 20 (alongside Bangladesh bowlers Mohammad Sharif and Talha Jubair, and Pakistan allrounder Nasim-ul-Ghani).
His Grenada hundred - the first by a West Indian opener in the second innings of a home Test since 1997, 70 matches ago - has now, more impressively, made Brathwaite only the third West Indian to score four Test hundreds before turning 23. His predecessors: Sobers and George Headley. Two tidy players on any measure. More sizeable boots to fill.
● Just one more stat. England's first innings was only the third time in their history that they have lost three batsmen run out in a Test innings (after Adelaide in 1901-02, and a frantic but unsuccessful last-day run chase against Pakistan in 1987). In addition to the run-outs of Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan and Anderson, Jos Buttler was stumped, meaning that it was the first innings since the Madras Test of January 1952 that four England players have been dismissed short of their ground. Obviously the excitement of the impending election is proving a considerable distraction.
It was the second time in their last three Tests that West Indies have run three batsmen out in an innings, having done so in Cape Town in January. They had done so only once in their previous 344 Tests, dating back to 1975.