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Match Analysis

England atone for series errors as pride shines through in the end

Genuine on-field progress remains hard to gauge, but Root comes through personal test of leadership, in words and deeds

Joe Root plays a pull shot, West Indies v England, 3rd Test, St Lucia, 4th day, February 12, 2019

Joe Root plays a pull shot  •  Getty Images

It would be nice to report that England's win in St Lucia shows they are back on course.
And it's true there were some aspects of this performance - not least Mark Wood's first-innings bowling - that may prove relevant for the months ahead. If England can keep Wood fit and if he can reproduce the hostility of his spell in West Indies' first innings, there will be a new dimension to England's attack. No batsman, in the Ashes or at the World Cup, wants to face that.
But like winning the raffle on Titanic just after that pesky incident with the iceberg, the value of a win in a dead rubber does have to be kept in perspective.
There were some moments in this match when it seemed quite apparent that West Indies were struggling to retain the intensity they had demonstrated earlier in the series.
Consider Kemar Roach, for example: he was immaculate in the first Test - and in some stages of this one - but in his first spell here, he barely hit the cut strip. And then there's Kraigg Brathwaite, who has batted with an abundance of caution all series, who suddenly fell to a slog to the midwicket boundary. West Indies were without their captain and key allrounder, too.
That's not to say England's win was not deserving of praise. Quite apart from Wood's pace, there were other aspects of this performance that England could look to learn from and replicate.
The hunger of Joe Root, for example. Quite early in his century, he received a long-hop from Roston Chase that, many times, he might have tried to hit for four or six. It crossed his mind here, too, you could see: he was quickly in position and on the brink of unleashing a full-blooded pull.
Instead, though, he considered the man back on the boundary, rolled his wrists, hit the ball down and settled for one.
It was a moment that immediately brought to mind another Root innings: his 254 against Pakistan at Old Trafford, when he made exactly the same decisions against Yasir Shah, concluding the percentage option - the wise, mature, long-term option - was to play a bit safer and grind out the huge score his side required.
If that sounds simple, well it probably is. But it also isn't the way England tend to play these days. All that talk of "you don't win games by batting long periods of time", which Root said ahead of the series, has seeped into the DNA of this side. Root's innings here - an innings that contained 57 singles - showed he was learning and adapting.
Might it be relevant that this innings and the one in Manchester came when Root had something to prove? On this occasion, he was hurt by the series defeat and disappointment in his own performance. In Manchester, meanwhile, he had just moved up the order to No. 3 and was keen to show what he could do.
Root has to retain that hunger. He has to retain that understanding that it is not vignettes that win Tests; it's epics. England are not a good enough side that they can see their best batsman settle for simply expressing his talent. He also has to grind and resist. He has to add rigour to his many other qualities.
There were other differences in this game. Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes both made their best contributions of the series (with the bat, at least) with Stokes showing a welcome ability to go up and down the gears as the situation warranted. If he and England are to fulfil their potential, he will have to improve that Test batting average of 33.89 by at least five and quite possibly 10. There is no reason at all he should not.
So that's all fine and good.
But the win in St Lucia shouldn't mask what went before. It's shouldn't obscure the fact that four more catches were dropped in West Indies' second innings; it shouldn't obscure the fact that England still have little idea who their top three should be and it shouldn't obscure the fact they don't seem to know who to pick as wicketkeeper.
Most of all, it shouldn't detract from some poor selections both ahead and throughout this trip. The continuing persistence with Keaton Jennings - who really might be a worse driver than Prince Philip - is starting to look stubborn and irrational. With Trevor Bayliss - and, perhaps, James Anderson - having just participated in their final overseas Tests, it's hard to argue that England are all that further progressed than they were when Bayliss took over in 2015.
There was another aspect to this match. Playing, watching, writing and talking about cricket is, on the whole, a pretty frivolous way for grown-ups to spend their time. It's beautiful, of course, and it's enjoyable. But it's not life and death and very little that happens really matters.
But just occasionally there is a chance to make a difference. And, in making it clear that it is inappropriate to use somebody's sexual orientation as a term of abuse, Root took that opportunity. His stance will have been noted - maybe only subconsciously - in playgrounds and streets and maidans across the world. It was another tiny step in the right direction for sport and society.
While there may be some sympathy for Shannon Gabriel - we are all a product of our culture, after all, and homosexual acts are considered illegal across much of this region; we know of worse comments from players of all nations that have gone unpunished in other series because broadcasters (often host broadcasters) cannot isolate the audio or because the protagonists have made them in a more sophisticated (or cynical) fashion - cricket has to move beyond this nonsense. The fact that spectators, led by the Barmy Army, sang "YMCA", "It's Raining Men" and "A Little Respect" throughout Gabriel's innings suggested they are keen to do so.
Cricket fluffed such an opportunity at Edgbaston - when Moeen Ali was disgracefully booed - and cricket fluffed such an opportunity during an ugly Ashes series which became boorish and boring. It's fluffed such an opportunity many, many times.
The opportunity was taken here. Root may well have a bit to learn about captaincy and even a bit to learn about batting. But he has a great many good qualities and he is, very much, the natural leader of this side. England haven't always been the most attractive or likeable side. In St Lucia they were a side of which their supporters could be proud.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo