Why England must drop Ben Stokes for the Headingley Test against West Indies
20 AUGUST 2017 • 12:31PM
England’s selectors have named the same 13 players – the current XI plus Chris Woakes
and Mason Crane – for the second Test against West Indies at Headingley starting on Friday.
That is the easy part.
Yet to be born, however, is the England selector or coach who is brave enough to tap James Anderson on the shoulder, when he is eight wickets away from his 500th, and say: “Jimmy, old son, I want you to give the rest of this series against West Indies a miss.
We’ll pick you again in Australia.”
Yet to be born, too, is the England selector or coach brave enough to approach Stuart Broad,
when he has just surpassed Sir Ian Botham to go second in England’s all-time list of wicket-takers
and say: “Stuart, old boy, rest easy on 384 wickets for the rest of this summer
and see if you can get to your 400th Down Under.”
Hungry hyenas would have been easier to call off than Anderson and Broad were on Saturday
when they sniffed the carrion that is West Indian batting – or shovelling to leg as it could be more accurately called. Their identikit right-handed batsman grips the bat with a strong bottom hand,
opens up his stance and plays across the line, seeking to shovel leg side.
Such a technique might work on the slow, low pitches which now prevail in the Caribbean
– to the shame of the administrators of the West Indies board – but it makes the tourists cannon-fodder against Broad and Anderson.
Having dropped two catches on the second evening, England missed only one more as they took 19 wickets on Saturday, for 261 runs, in 76.4 overs, as West Indies failed to register a single half-century stand.
Only three times in Test history has a side been completely out twice in a day.
Had it been a full day’s play, of 98 overs,
West Indies could have been bowled out three times as they would
have started their third innings under floodlights.
One England bowler, however, who appeared less predatory
than Anderson and Broad was Ben Stokes.
This was no dereliction of his duties as vice-captain.
He bowled a dutiful spell of nine overs, for nine runs,
using a straighter run-up that put less of a twisting strain on his left knee.
But it is in Stokes’s nature that he wants a sterner fight than
what the West Indians could offer.
Stokes is the man England should rest for the second Test.
He played almost all winter in the sub-continent,
for England and Rising Pune Supergiants in the IPL.
His left knee, which stopped him bowling his full quota of overs
in the Champions Trophy in June, must have a limited shelf-life –
and Woakes needs game-time after not playing a Test this summer.
Jonny Bairstow at six, Moeen Ali at seven and Woakes –
who made his England debut at number six in 2013 –
down at eight is strong enough to face this West Indian bowling.
It is easy to conclude this West Indian batting line-up is their
worst since their inaugural Test series in England in 1928.
Immediately after that tour they acquired George Headley, known as “Atlas” because he carried their batting until the Second World War, averaging 60.
After Headley, West Indies had the three knighted ‘Ws’, Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott, followed by more great names.
Now, for right-handed batsmen, they have this identikit shoveller across the line,
and for a left-handed batsman they have Kieran Powell.
In his first innings he did not care to dive for his crease after daring to take a single to Anderson’s right hand at mid-on.
In the second innings, when West Indies were desperate
for someone to see off the new ball,
he played one loose drive at Broad then what was nothing more than a wild hack.
It is a misconception, however, that West Indies have a young batting line-up.
The youngest member of their top eight is Shai Hope, 23.
They have an inexperienced line-up or, to be more precise,
a line-up with no experience of succeeding. Powell is 27,
and toured England in 2012, so the conditions at Edgbaston were nothing new.
But in that series, in five innings as opening batsman, he scored a total of 71 runs.
Alastair Cook batted for more than three hours longer in a knock of 243
than West Indies did in their two innings combined.
It might be interesting if England’s selectors,
instead of naming the same 13 for Headingley,
chose a second XI for the second Test, and a third XI for the final Test at Lord’s,
to see how West Indies compare.
For certain, it was no contest when England
wrapped up the first Test by an innings
and 209 runs in less than three days and nights.