October 21, 2020

Brutal Broad decision looks like a mistake – Agnew

Kraigg Brathwaite & Shane Dowrich put West Indies in charge

These days, England players are encouraged to be open, honest and speak their minds.

It is good that they are, because it certainly would not have happened 10 years ago.

When Stuart Broad was asked how it felt to have been left out of this first Test against West Indies, he could have trotted out the usual lines about how he is “backing up the lads”, but he would not have meant it.

Instead, he said he was “angry, frustrated and gutted”. I’m not sure a young cricketer in Broad’s position would have said the same thing, but he has been around for a long time and clearly feels very strongly.

When you take into account what Broad has achieved in the past year, it is a pretty brutal decision. Twelve Tests, 48 wickets at an average of 23.

Not only that, but you suspect Broad would have bowled beautifully in the grey, damp conditions England were presented with on the first morning in Southampton. With Broad in the side, England may have chosen to exploit those conditions, rather than opting to bat first.

I understand the arguments for the attack England have chosen, putting the extra pace of Mark Wood and Jofra Archer alongside James Anderson.

Part of the job of the selectors is to have an eye on the future, and England will have thoughts of the next Ashes series in Australia, in 2011-22, in mind. We cannot complain that England have no pace bowlers, and also when their fastest bowlers get picked.

On top of that, stand-in skipper Ben Stokes was faced with a dry pitch, one that might go up and down late in this Test. If that is the case, the extra pace of Archer and Wood could be very effective.

But you have to be in the game when the fourth and fifth days come around. You also want to put a marker down and win the first Test in a series.

England face a battle to do both of those things, and for that reason you have to think they made a mistake.

Broad, 34, said he was pleased he felt so disappointed to be left out, otherwise he might have a decision to make about his future.

He will be realistic. He will see how much he plays this summer, and how well he bowls when his chance comes.

After seeing three days of behind-closed-doors cricket, it may be in the back of his mind, and of 37-year-old Anderson, that a farewell without spectators would be no farewell at all.

Anderson dismisses Brooks for 39

That, though, is for the future, because the conversation surrounding Broad should not detract from the state of the match, with England in trouble 99 runs behind, even if they still have all 10 second-innings wickets in hand.

In some ways, you do not want to be over-critical of the players, because their preparation has been short and they are lacking the lift a crowd can give them.

But the West Indies players are in exactly the same situation, and they have shown that discipline and a willingness to knuckle down can still lead to a good performance.

In that sense, it has not been a good display from England. They batted poorly in the first innings, then offered up too many loose deliveries for West Indies to capitalise on.

In contrast, the tourists bowled well and grafted with the bat. They have shown all the qualities that impressed us when they won in the Caribbean at the beginning of 2019.

Now, England find themselves having to make at least 270 in their second innings to have a chance of bowling West Indies out on the last day.

The sub-plot in that will be the battle between Joe Denly and Zak Crawley for who survives when captain Joe Root returns from paternity leave.

However, if we follow the same logic that led to the dropping of Broad, the decision should already have been made.

Yes, Denly looks the part, and it is infuriating that he has not yet made a really big score, but he is 33. Crawley is only 21.

If England are omitting Broad with one eye on the future, should the same criteria also apply to the batsmen?

Whatever happens over the next two days, we have seen enough to know this series will be a real contest.

If West Indies had arrived with batsmen Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer, who opted out of the tour because of understandable concerns over coronavirus, it would have been their strongest squad to tour England since they last won here in 1988.

Their batting can have a bad day, but so can England’s. They are led by a thoughtful and inspirational captain in Jason Holder, and a disciplined coach in Phil Simmons.

They will make things very, very tough for England.

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport’s Stephan Shemilt.