England v West Indies: Jonathan Agnew on series, Stuart Broad & biobubble

In beating West Indies 2-1, England have won a series we thought they would, albeit by taking a circuitous route.

The mistakes they made in losing the first Test in Southampton – selection, batting – they have largely put right.

By the same token, West Indies lost their way, perhaps not helped by some of the decisions they made. To win the toss in both matches at Emirates Old Trafford and elect to field twice, mainly with the same tired bowlers, is asking a lot.

Regardless of the help they got from the tourists, England came back well, even if some questions still remain over certain areas of their team.

Jos Buttler missed out on the opportunity to get the really big score that would have answered any questions over his place, while we are still not quite sure of who should be the first-choice spinner, despite Dom Bess’ strong character.

On top of those, it is funny how England separated Stuart Broad and James Anderson for the first two matches of the series, only to reunite them for the decider.

It is completely understandable for the selectors to be making plans for the time those two great fast bowlers are no longer around.

England could even lose both of them at the same time, which would leave an enormous void to fill.

It is right to be looking at other options, but the first Test of the summer was the wrong time to do that.

I hope both play in the first match against Pakistan next week, then England can think about giving one or both of them a breather.

Broad’s comeback from being left out of the first Test is a reminder of how steely, determined and stubborn he is.

Some others, especially at 34 years of age, would have seen that as a massive blow to their confidence. For Broad, a dig in the ribs fires him up to prove the doubters wrong.

Look at the things he has come back from in his career. The torrid time he had in Australia after the fuss of him standing his ground at Trent Bridge, being hit for six sixes by Yuvraj Singh, suggestions that he had lost his pace and nip. These would have broken other cricketers.

Yet, here he is, with 500 Test wickets, 10 in the match and a half-century to go with it.

He is no fool, so he knows the end will come soon, but he is also certain he does not want to finish his career in front of an empty ground, so there is likely to be plenty more to come from him yet.

It was Broad who spoke before the series about how difficult it might be for the players to motivate themselves to perform without spectators.

Yet there has been no lack of effort from either side. They have risen to the occasion of playing Test cricket for their respective teams and delivered a high-quality series.

There is no doubt that life in the bubble has been strange. When it was first talked about at the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, we wondered how the authorities would be able to deliver such an ambitious plan.

Now we can say it has worked. If Australia travel for their limited-overs matches at the end of the summer, then not one of England’s men’s matches will have been lost. We are even seeing crowds return to county matches.

That is not to say that life in the bubble is without challenges. Those of us in the media have been allowed home twice, yet there are still times when we wistfully gaze out to a world that is slowly returning to some kind of normality.

Therefore, you wonder how difficult it must have been on the players, especially the West Indians, who have been living this strange existence since the beginning of June.

Test matches are primarily about the cricket, but they are also an occasion. A time when you catch up with friends and enjoy the summer.

One day we will listen back to Broad taking his 500th Test wicket in silence and wonder what it was all about, only to be reminded of the unique circumstances in which these matches were played.

There are plenty more to come, too. In a congested schedule, an entirely different group of England players meet Ireland in three one-day internationals over the course of the next week.

Even though it is largely a second-string home team, they will still be expected to deal with the challenge of the Irish.

Then, with no time to think, the three Tests against Pakistan begin.

It should be a really interesting series. Pakistan’s fast bowling is at least the equal of West Indies’, they have more batting depth and better quality spin options.

I’m expecting them to be really tough opponents.

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