Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 May 2019

Joe Root's England desperately need to rebuild confidence with bat ahead of Ashes

Despite Australia's own problems, England must know bowlers cannot always win them matches - like they did in 2018

England captain Joe Root, left, and Rory Burns, right, both will look to find more runs in the second Test against West Indies. Getty Images
England captain Joe Root, left, and Rory Burns, right, both will look to find more runs in the second Test against West Indies. Getty Images

You would really have had to be not paying attention to England's Test cricket performances in 2018 to have been genuinely surprised by last week's display in Barbados.

Rolled over for just 77 in only 182 balls in their first innings of the first Test against West Indies, they went on to lose abjectly by 381 to the West Indies.

Joe Root's men have left themselves in real trouble and even drawing the three-match series from here, let alone winning it, looks like a tall order as they prepare for the start of the second Test in Antigua on Thursday.

The crux of the issue was that once again the batting was not good enough and undid the solid work of the bowlers.

On the surface 2018 looked good for England. They won eight out of 14 Tests and won at home to world No 1 side India and picked up on their second ever series win in Sri Lanka.

But scratch below the surface and a great deal of that success came through the efforts of England's bowling line-up, led by James Anderson.

The 36 year old was at it again in Barbados as his 5-46 helped peg West Indies to 289 all out after they had won the toss and chosen to bat.

Yet, just over a session later he was back out in the middle having to bowl again as England's top order were skittled out.

It was the second time in 12 months they have capitulated in the first Test of a series on foreign soil for a figure under three figures. In March last year they were bowled out by New Zealand for 58, in just 124 balls, in Auckland.

Even in beating India 4-1 on home turf last summer the lone defeat to India at Trent Bridge they managed to lose all 10 wickets in a session in their first innings.

Once is unfortunate. Twice could be a coincidence. But three times clearly highlights a pattern. Which in this case is that England's batting continues to misfire at alarming regularity and there does not appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel.

England's average first innings score in 2018 was 280. The first time out in the middle with the bat is crucial as it often defines the match. A score of 280 is not one from which any side can claim to be in charge.

Performances like what happened in Barbados can happen to any side. But it was the manner, and sheer predictability, of it once the West Indies bowlers had their tails up that was most demoralising for the England camp.

A total of 289 should not have been a score that put West Indies in complete control, but it proved to be and England must show more application in Antigua.

Problems remain unresolved. The opening pair is a real issue, as it has been since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012.

Rory Burns has shown promise and was the only batsman to come out of Barbados with any real credit for his second innings 84. Keaton Jennings, who looks like a man bereft of confidence at the other end, was on Wednesday dropped for the second Test and replaced by the uncapped Joe Denly.

England middle-order batsman Jonny Bairstow does not look comfortable at No 3. Ricardo Mazalan / AP Photo
England middle-order batsman Jonny Bairstow does not look comfortable at No 3. Ricardo Mazalan / AP Photo

Jonny Bairstow has played in the middle and lower order for much of his Test career but is now trying to adjust to life at No 3 and does not look comfortable there.

Root is in his preferred slot at No 4 but looks like a man weighed down by the challenges of captaincy.

England have been so used to the runs of Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Mooen Ali saving them in the lower order that all have been moved up to make up the middle of the line-up.

That is much down to them not finding someone who can nail down the No 5 slot. Bairstow should be there, but he is plugging another hole at No 3.

The statistics do not lie. England are not scoring enough runs and their bowlers, as Barbados showed, cannot save them every time.

They did last year on a number of occasions. Virat Kohli still probably has nightmares about how India managed to lose 4-1 to a side with such a brittle top order.

But England need to sort their batting line-up fast and try and rebuild confidence.

It may not be enough to save the series against the West Indies, but with the Ashes to come in the summer it is hard to believe that they can continue to get away with an average first innings score below 300, no matter Australia's own problems.

Updated: January 31, 2019 08:03 AM

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