MARTIN SAMUEL: Ignore Joe Root’s empty words, England look DOOMED again


The Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, to the north of the island of Antigua, still looks like what might happen if you asked China to build you a cricket ground.

And the England team that will begin its brave new world — part 757 — on Tuesday is much the same. It does not include the most experienced, and best, bowlers, is marshalled by an interim coach and a captain whose survival in the position is almost as impressive as his penchant for survival at the crease.

One of the opening batsmen is making his Test debut, one of the opening bowlers has a dreadful record outside of English conditions. Another bowler, supposedly crucial to this revolution, has pulled out with an injury that may or may not be a result of continued poor conditioning.

The England team begins its brave new world at The Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua

Joe Root is not so much drinking in the last chance saloon as draining a final double brandy

Joe Root is not so much drinking in the last chance saloon as draining a final double brandy

And this, we are supposed to believe, is an opportunity.

We know this because Joe Root, England’s captain and the man who is not so much drinking in the last chance saloon, as draining a final double brandy and disappearing in a taxi to the Pink Pussycat club, described it as such as he spoke about the game on Monday.

Root used the word opportunity, or derivatives of it, at least 10 times in his brief appearance in front of the cameras at the boundary edge. He spoke as if this was an England team that could afford to experiment boldly, rather than one that had sunk with pretty much all hands in Australia earlier this winter and desperately needed a change in the narrative.

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Senior coach, gone. Batting coach, gone. Managing director, gone. Captain, wounded. Root remains because, in his own words, he’s still the best man for the job, or in the words of many others, there truly is no one else.

Ben Stokes would be a contender but it is mighty hard to heap the pressures of England captaincy on to the shoulders of a man who was recently signed off with mental health-related issues. In just about any other England era, Root would have been asked, politely, to focus on his batting.

Root used the word opportunity, or derivatives of it, at least 10 times in front of the cameras

Root used the word opportunity, or derivatives of it, at least 10 times in front of the cameras 

Instead, he endures, and other senior players, big personalities in the dressing room, take the fall. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, two of the better performers in the Ashes — and it is not a big pool — are not here, their international careers halted by a brief phone conversation with Sir Andrew Strauss, the interim managing director.

On the way out to Antigua on Saturday, Strauss sat alone and disappeared into his own world of films or music, encased in a large set of headphones; or maybe he did not want an idle chat with a passing cricket enthusiast, Barmy or not. 

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By then, Ollie Robinson’s injury issues were known and the folly of having Broad and Anderson, two of the fittest bowlers in history, sitting by the fireside was growing increasingly apparent.

Chris Woakes will open the bowling on Tuesday — a man who has taken 75.2 per cent of his Test wickets in England. Anderson’s record in the Caribbean is inferior to his record in England by 0.6 per cent.

Ricky Ponting, a great captain, was scathing when Root spoke as if he couldn’t control his most experienced bowlers in Adelaide, claiming they bowled shorter than the team plan.

Ollie Robinson has pulled out with injury - it may or may not be a result of poor conditioning

Ollie Robinson has pulled out with injury – it may or may not be a result of poor conditioning

‘I nearly fell off my seat when I heard that,’ he said. ‘Whose job is it then to make them change? Why are you captain? If you can’t influence your bowlers on what length to bowl, what are you doing on the field?

‘Root can say whatever he likes but if you’re captain, you’ve got to be able to sense when your bowlers aren’t bowling where you want them to. If they’re not going to listen, you take them off, simple as that.

‘Give someone else a chance that is going to do it for you or have a strong conversation with them on the field to tell them what you need. That’s what captaincy is all about.’

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Yet, the only logical explanation for dropping Anderson and Broad is that Root simply cannot control them. Nothing else makes sense. And that says almost as much about him as them.

The only logical explanation for dropping James Anderson (R) and Stuart Broad (L) is that Root simply cannot control them

The only logical explanation for dropping James Anderson (R) and Stuart Broad (L) is that Root simply cannot control them

The Caribbean is no place for shrinking violets either, no place to learn on the job. Much is made of England’s record in Australia but, here, it is worse. A single series victory for the tourists in 54 years — and not all of those Tests have been played against great, terrifying West Indian teams.

This is, supposedly, a region in which the sport is on the decline, yet there has been little to suggest that from results against England. A win on tour in 2003-04 is the sole triumph since 1967-68. And England have never won a Test in Antigua, despite 10 attempts, three here and seven at the grand old Recreation Ground in the capital, St John’s.

There is no foreign location that England’s cricketers have visited more frequently without victory. Or, as Root might cry, opportunity, ho!



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