With the conclusion of the second Test Match of three in the Caribbean between the West Indies and England, many questions have been raised over the quality of this England side. Especially when that same squad came into the series off the back of an away whitewash, 3-0, in Sri Lanka and a flattering but nonetheless impressive 4-1 home victory against the reigning test champions, India.
And yet, they have now been comprehensively beaten for the second time in as many weeks against a team written off many before the series. Going into the series, prominent ex-England players questioned the talent of the West Indian players, most notably Geoffrey Boycott, who described the team as “very ordinary, average cricketers” in his column for The Telegraph. Some may assert that this is a fair representation of a team that has not won a test series against a top-8 side since 2012, at home versus a New Zealand side yet to be inspired by captain Brendan McCullum.
However, what some seem to have glossed over is the evident quality that this current West Indies side possesses. Skipper Jason Holder is inspired in home conditions, averaging 52 with the bat in the last two years – higher than his counter-part Joe Root. Even the much-maligned wicket-keeper Shane Dowrich has a higher first-class batting average than England’s Keaton Jennings and Jos Buttler. Furthermore, the batting line-up contains two of the most exciting young cricketers in the world, Shrimon Hetmyer and Shai Hope, both of whom have admittedly modest averages, but enough talent to be seen as more than “very average”.
They have collectively shown England the way to bowl in these trying conditions – with immaculate lengths, bounce and no shortage of pace
Both have shown their undoubted talents in away performances. Hetmyer, who captained his team U19 World Cup glory in 2016 with consecutive fifties in the quarter and semi-finals, made an outstanding 106 from just 78 balls in a One Day International versus India last October. Hope’s glimpse of his vast potential came in a Test match against England in 2017. He scored a hundred in both innings of the Test match, a feat only accomplished three times by a West Indian since Gordon Greenidge’s famous effort at Old Trafford in 1976. It was also the first time for it to ever happen at Headingly, a ground that has seen some of best batting talent in the world consistently turn up for over a century – including the aforementioned Boycott, Sachin Tendulkar, and current England captain Joe Root.
Notwithstanding their batting capabilities in their home conditions, the West Indies have a bowling attack that has the fear-inspiring quality of Walsh and Ambrose of the 1990s, and before them Garner, Roberts, Marshall, and Holding of the 1970s and 1980s. Holder, along with Gabriel, Roach and Joseph form a pacey and dangerous attack, even on the increasingly low and slow Caribbean wickets. They have collectively shown England the way to bowl in these trying conditions – with immaculate lengths, bounce and no shortage of pace. Gabriel and Joseph especially has shown signs of the fearsome pace of old, ripping through the opposition’s top order in a fashion not witness by the Caribbean faithful for a long while. Indeed, all four of the West Indies’ bowlers average under 25 in home conditions, a key indicator of world-class bowling talent.
While the finger will be pointed at a disappointing England, cricket should open their eyes to the fact that, at home, the West Indies have resoundingly shrugged off the “average” tag that has plagued the conversation around them for many years now. Next week’s match, while a dead-rubber, could further cement them back into cricket’s limelight heading into a World Cup in 2019 where they will undoubtedly feel that they could pull off a few scalps.