At the end of an absorbing five days of cricket (well 4 and a bit) the West Indies will leave Southampton one test to the good after chasing down a below-par 200 on the final day of the first Test at the Ageas Bowl.
England will now try and regroup ahead of the 2nd Test in Manchester which starts on Thursday, with a number of questions left to be answered.
On a wicket that was still quite docile for the batsmen, the fate of the first test was all but sealed during the evening session of day four, as England lost 5 quick wickets for just 30 runs. Despite a counter-attacking 23 by bowler Jofra Archer firs thing this morning, the 200 target always looked 50 runs short.
England managed to get pick up some momentum early with Archer bowling a hostile but accurate spell that unnerved the West Indies. However a solid partnership between Roston Chase and Jermaine Blackwood who fell just five runs short of a test century took the game away from England.
In truth, England just weren't good enough throughout the five days. Stand-in captain Ben Stokes made two big decisions (with the help of the coaching staff) and both seemed to backfire instantly. Choosing to bat on an overcast and rainy Wednesday, England's paltry first-innings return left them in a hole, facing a deficit of 114 runs after the first inning. With Jason Holder showing how to get the most out of the pitch, it was strange to see England's own tall, accurate fast-bowler Stuart Broad watching from the sideline. Stokes may have defended his decisions following the loss, but most would agree that batting in those conditions was a mistake.
A test match is made up of thousands of single events which culminate in the final mosaic, but England's loss can largely be summarised in 5 points:
1) Decision at the toss to bat
2) The omission of Stuart Broad
3) Gifting of wickets on day 4
4) Wayward bowling on day 3
5) Poor fielding on day five.
You can't read too much into a single performance and to blame everything on England would be a disservice to a West Indies side that performed better over five days, and I will categorically say right now that the West Indies deserved their victory. Blackwood's knock today was superb and Gabriel and Holder's bowling throughout was exceptional. However that doesn't mean England's batsmen are off the hook.
Joe Denly has surely played his last inning for England for some time. With mounting pressure from the likes of Crawley, he needed to out-perform his fellow Kent man to guarantee his place for the 2nd test with captain Joe Root returning. However, a return of 47 runs for the match just isn't good enough, and with Crawley making a superb 76 in the 2nd inning, the #3 spot is Crawleys for Old Trafford. If Crawley were to go on a poor run, you'd imagine either Dan Lawrence or James Bracey would be next-in-line, so if Denly is indeed dropped come Thursday, he may be dropped permanently considering he's now 34.
The other key decision is based around the wicket-keeper position. Now I'll say that I think England will stick with Jos Buttler, I think he'll get the entire West Indies series to get a score, and with Ed Smith's love for the Lancashire man, you know he only needs one score to guarantee his place for the Pakistan series. However, the facts are unavoidable, Jos has a 21.48 average since the start of 2019 and made 44 runs in the first test, a number lower than Joe Denly.
The only other decision to be made relates to the bowling unit. Jofra Archer was back to his best on day five and consistency will come with experience, I personally think he's done enough to guarantee his place for the Old Trafford test. People are talking as though it's a straight shoot-out between Wood, Archer and Broad. However, Chris Woakes has a sterling record at Old Trafford, averaging 84 with the bat and 23.50 with the ball. It'll all depend on the pitch, but it could be that England decide to play a quartet of Woakes, Archer, Broad and Anderson with Mark Wood and Dom Bess missing out.