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Match Analysis

No quick fix in prospect for England as reset runs out of rope

Desperation stakes for Joe Root as West Indies swarm towards famous series win

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
27-Mar-2022
Joe Root trudges off after falling cheaply again, West Indies vs England, 3rd Test, Grenada, 3rd day, March 26, 2022

Joe Root trudges off after falling cheaply again  •  Getty Images

Farewell then, the Red-Ball Reset. We hardly knew you. There may be successors, of course, a reboot of the franchise in a couple of months' time, once the ECB have found themselves a new coaching team and management structure worthy of the Inspiring Generations tagline. But with the Grenada Test all over bar the shouting and the continuation of England's barren record in the Caribbean, we have surely heard the last of that phrase for a while.
Right from the moment this England touring party was announced, with their two all-time leading Test wicket-takers conspicuously absent, there was a suspicion that this was a mission doomed to fail. England have been beaten often enough in the Caribbean over the past 50 years while fielding their best personnel to know that chucking together a group of semi-regulars and sort-of-new faces to accompany Joe Root and Ben Stokes was unlikely to work.
Even so, and allowing for the fact that the best-laid plans gang aft a-gley (and these probably weren't the best-laid plans, let's be honest...), this was a sucker punch for those following back home amid balmy spring weather and the first stirrings of the cricket season to come. After draws on the front foot in Antigua and Barbados, the last thing most were expecting when flicking on BT Sport in the evening was the sight of England being monstered by the mediums of Kyle Mayers.
Eight down at the close and leading by just 10 runs, the jig was almost up. And barring the gallows-humour take that, in Saqib Mahmood, they still had their best batter to come, there was precious little to cling to for the put-upon fan of England's Test side.
Afterwards, Marcus Trescothick, the England batting coach, tried to suggest that the team's calamitous tumble towards likely defeat and a series loss on the decisive day of action should not provide the final word for the tour.
"We've had one bad day today and over the course of the series this is the first bad day we've had," he said. "Day one in Antigua we had a challenging day, but fought back really well. Barbados we were really strong and controlled most of the game and today it's gone wrong.
"It's easy over the course of what we've had over the winter to throw it back and throw the baby out with the bath water. It's all gone wrong, yes, we've had a really bad day and we're really disappointed. We believe as coaching staff and players in that dressing room that we've made strides as a team over the course of the Test matches we've had. We'll lick our wounds and try to come back from it but it's been a really tough day and we've put the series in jeopardy."
Root and his men had at least resumed on the third morning still in touch, having been 114 for 9 at one stage during their first innings, and with the potential for setting West Indies a testing target on a pitch that has offered variable bounce throughout. All they needed to do was limit the damage, take two tail-end wickets and start making amends with the bat. But at the first whiff of grapeshot, they scattered.
It was a day littered with instructive vignettes. Several came during an extended morning session during which England's attack once again struggled to finish off the opposition - as at Lord's and The Oval against India last summer, say, or at various points during the Ashes. Kemar Roach was dislodged inside the first five overs by Mahmood, one of the few actual bright spots on tour, and the same bowler could have had Jayden Seales lbw shortly after, without addition to the score, only for England to have run out of reviews.
Mahmood kicked the ground in frustration, with Hawk-Eye confirming Gregory Brathwaite's error. But Root had spent his allocation the previous day, all three of them speculative: an appeal for a leg-side catch off Jermaine Blackwood and failed lbw shouts against Josh Da Silva and Alzarri Joseph.
West Indies were 41 runs in front at the time, but would more than double that advantage through a magnificently resourceful and nuggety maiden Test hundred from Da Silva. For a period the innings almost went into reverse, as England bowled maiden after maiden while unsuccessfully trying to create another chance against Seales. But Da Silva kept chipping away and then went on the attack to bring up his hundred with success thumps down the ground off Craig Overton. Root once again powerless as the game ebbed further away.
Although Da Silva was given out caught behind to his very next ball, a punt of a review saw all the players have to retake their places, just when England thought the misery was finally over. Their frustrations were evident as Overton, fielding in his followthrough, hurled the ball back at Da Silva. Root dismissed Seales himself, but the jeopardy of England's position, 93 runs in arrears, was palpable.
Cue another grisly top-order collapse, with Zak Crawley and Root particularly culpable for their dismissals. Root wore a hollow look as he trudged off after falling to Mayers for the second time in the match, and that had developed into a thousand-yard stare watching on from the balcony as Stokes tickled behind while attempting to leave, England 39 for 4 and deep in the mire. While there are few other options as captain, Root knows he doesn't have to do this any more if he doesn't want to.
Another revealing moment was to come. Alex Lees and Jonny Bairstow lashed together a partnership from the flotsam and jetsam of the innings, eking out 41 runs from almost 25 overs and seemingly giving England a chance to transfer some of the pressure back. But with Da Silva returning some of the commentary about slow scoring he had received from Bairstow earlier in the day, West Indies were gifted another opening late on. As if to prove right Da Silva's sledge that "He has more shots than me", Bairstow tried to pull a Joseph short ball from round the wicket in the following over, only for an under-edge to nestle in his antagonist's gloves.
"We didn't stand up in the pressure moments when it was going down to the wire," Trescothick said. "We haven't stood up and performed as we have in the rest of the series, whereas they've had a couple of guys really step up and make a difference. Mayers bowled brilliantly and got something out of the pitch, Da Silva batted well for a hundred, his first one. We need to try and put in those performances when these times come around."
It is not long since this tour began with well-intentioned but facile observations from the likes of Root and the interim coach, Paul Collingwood, about the "good, in-depth conversations" players were having, the "feel-good factor" and "opportunities for the group". When Ollie Robinson limped out of the warm-up game, Collingwood said he would not be panicking; when Mark Wood hurt his elbow in Antigua, there was no SOS to James Anderson or Stuart Broad.
But barring a miracle of a magnitude beyond the last-wicket stand between Leach and Mahmood on day one, England are set to extend their abysmal recent record to one win in 17 Tests, across five series without success. Once again it is clear how deep their red-ball problems run - and there isn't a button marked 'reset' that can fix them.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick