Analysis: West Indies are showing England how to play Test cricket
A rare attacking shot from Bravo (photo: Getty Images)

Analysis: West Indies are showing England how to play Test cricket

The tourists are in danger of losing the second Test of the three-match Series.

Chris Lincoln

As we head towards the midway point of the Series, many were predicting that England would have almost signed, sealed and delivered victory in the Caribbean.

Yet the reality is contrasting with West Indies hurtling towards a shock victory on home turf.

The return of Bravo

For years, Windies have been written off in the red ball format of the game with their top talents either grappled away from Test cricket by the riches of the Twenty20 franchise leagues or star names falling out with the nation's cricket authorities.

One of those, Darren Bravo, has only just returned to the Test scene after a substantial period in the wilderness. He barely scored a run in Barbados. Yet it was his incredible display of grit, determination and resilience on the second day of the second Test that underpinned the style of play England's batters need to develop.

The tourists had been skittled for just 187 but an incredibly unpredictable pitch was causing havoc on the wicket for both teams. Yet Bravo, who is Brian Lara's cousin and known for his attacking talents, simply stuck around, grinding out a remarkable innings.

The number four hung around for over four hours, scoring just 33 runs for 165 balls. Yet his defence allowed partners to build around him with Bravo only reaching the boundary on two occasions.

Shorter formats ruining England's Test hopes

And this is where the problem lies for England. Bravo has played almost a century of One Day Internationals but showed his ability to adapt to the longer format and play the conditions. England simply do not appear to have that in their locker.

The likes of Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler are recognised as four of the best white ball talents on the planet. And England build their Test tactics around them, looking to build an attacking and exciting brand of red ball cricket.

Sometimes it can work beautifully but on other occasions it can be disastrous, which is proving the case in the Caribbean. With England lacking an opener with any sort of pedigree since the retirement of Alistair Cook, there is plenty of emphasis on the England middle order.

But they continue to throw away their wickets, failing to pass 250 in all three innings. The best example of how they capitulated was when Adil Rashid chipped a ball straight to a fielder when England needed to grind out a partnership in the second innings of the first Test. To be honest, we could have chosen numerous examples of such capitulation.

How England miss a Geoffrey Boycott or Michael Atherton figure.

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Where is Plan B?

There have been further contrasting fortunes in the field. England's bowlers haven't been too bad in terms of effort and accuracy but the catching of the fielders has severely let them down.

Whilst the hosts have taken the majority of chances, England have put too many down and the importance of holding onto the ball was emphasised when Shimron Hetmyer put England to the sword after being dropped early in his breakthrough first Test innings.

However, by the same token, there is no Plan B for England's bowlers. West Indies tore through the England batting line-up with a quartet of fiery pace bowlers in the first innings of the first Test, somewhat a blast from the past, before Roston Chase spun his way to eight wickets in the second.

In contrast, England keep putting the ball in the same areas with the same options - an all too familiar scenario. If there is one historical over that underpins this issue then it is the four balls Ben Stokes bowled to Carlos Brathwaite in the 2016 Twenty20 World Cup final. All four balls were smashed for six with Stokes unable to change his tactics from bowling a length. It is a similar situation two years on in the longer format of the game.

Home performances to remember

England need to go back to the drawing board and evaluate how to build an innings and defend their scores.

Bravo's recent stint at the crease, the fast bowlers destroying England for 77 and Chase's eight wickets are not the only highlights for the hosts.

The way Hetmyer counter-attacked in the first Test when West Indies were 174-4 showed a mature head on young shoulders. He had a clear tactic of what bowlers to target and executed the plan with control and confidence. 

Similarly, Shane Dowrich and Jason Holder, who must be applauded for his impeccable leadership, produced a comparable display in the second innings. Picking their moments, they dragged their side from 61-5 to 415-6. Only Moeen Ali, with an excellent 60 in this Test has done anything similar for England.

But one of the most important partnerships in the contest of the match was formulated by Windies openers Kraigg Brathwaite and John Campbell in the last session of the first day of this Test. After watching English wickets tumble on a remarkable pitch, they stood firm to keep their partnership in tact before reaching 70 after a mammoth 33 overs to continue the frustrations for England.

Could you imagine Rory Burns, Keaton Jennings and/or Joe Denly doing something similar?