Ollie Robinson spent England’s penultimate training session in Antigua for the first Test walking round the boundary’s edge trying to loosen up his lower back muscles and thus the team’s so-called “red-ball reset” must now start without him.
No Jimmy Anderson and no Stuart Broad for the three-match series against West Indies that starts on Tuesday – the first to see the renamed Richards-Botham Trophy contested – has placed an onus on their previous support cast, with Robinson’s burgeoning Test credentials among those deemed worthy of such investment. He has 39 wickets from nine Tests at 21 runs apiece.
However, the back spasms that wrecked the 28-year-old’s final appearance in Hobart during the 4-0 Ashes defeat returned last week when England played their solitary warm-up fixture, a frustration given previous concerns about his physical conditioning, meaning new-ball duties are set to be shared by Chris Woakes and Craig Overton.
Woakes, speaking after England had a net at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium on Sunday, said: “Ollie is a talented bowler and he’s shown in his short Test career so far that he’s certainly got the skills and the ability to do good things in the format. He’s had a great start to his Test career so, naturally, he’ll be a big miss if he doesn’t make it on Tuesday. At the same time, it gives people opportunities.”
Overton is among them and at least ensures a similar partnership to plan A can be forged, with the Somerset man offering height and bounce like Robinson while Woakes looks to get movement sideways. Crosswinds at the ground should assist the latter, even if the Dukes ball used in the Caribbean does not buff up like those in England.
Woakes admitted to some good fortune at his own retention after six wickets at an average of 55 in Australia only underlined statistics that show his best work comes at home. The 33-year-old now leads an attack in which only Mark Wood (one Test match) has past experience of bowling on Caribbean surfaces.
It is inevitable the absence of Anderson and Broad will loom large over those to have been backed. Woakes was typically courteous about this task – “they are going to leave a hole. It’s certainly not easy, I can assure you that” – but also stressed that their record-breaking alliance took time to fully gel at the start.
As for the so-called reset, Woakes believes this is more about the mindset of the collective rather than the recent personnel and management changes that saw eight players from the Ashes tour dropped and Chris Silverwood, Graham Thorpe and Ashley Giles all lose their jobs. “I was flat after Australia. You never like seeing people lose jobs or spots in a team,” he said. “We spend a lot of time together and you become a family. As a player, you feel guilty because you’re the one that can kind of affect the results out in the middle.
“In Australia, we maybe got into a place where people were thinking more internally, thinking on personal levels rather than thinking fully about the bigger picture and about how to win games of cricket as a team. The last week or so we’ve tried to focus on how we can get better at doing things as a unit rather than individually. Naturally it’s a game that produces individual performances but we still need to be better as a collective, we can’t just rely on certain individuals to always step up and put their hand up. We need to do it as a group.”
With Alex Lees set to make his debut at opener – “My main advice is to be himself,” said Woakes – Dan Lawrence inked in at No 4 after scores of 83 and 49 last week and Ben Foakes back behind the stumps, the final call for Joe Root after naming a 12-man match squad is between the spin of Jack Leach or the fast-medium of Saqib Mahmood.
A pitch that produced two dull draws against Sri Lanka last year promises to offer a touch more assistance, with a hint of grass on a length two days out. But with Ben Stokes upping his workloads with the ball after a side strain, Leach is the likelier of the two and says he now feels fully backed by Root after recent talks.
England’s reset continues off the field this week also, with Andrew Strauss, interim director of cricket, understood to be about to advertise for his full-time successor. Once appointed this individual will begin the hunt for a head coach, with Paul Collingwood currently leading the backroom staff on a temporary basis.