To listen to Joe Root’s interview with David Gower after England’s 10-wicket humiliation by West Indies in Grenada was to understand the scale of the denial and delusion that has come to define English cricket.
His team, said Root, had shown a brilliant attitude. There were good things to take away from their latest series defeat. The players had to keep learning, keep growing. They were doing a lot of good things — now they had to turn those things into results.
You don’t say, Joe. Because that is one victory in 17 Tests now, and five series without a win.
He may be ‘passionate about taking the team forward’ but he sounds completely out of touch.
English cricket fans are not fools. They will soon tire of PR guff that bears no relation to reality. In fact, some already are. One friend said a few days ago: ‘They’ve made me not care.’
Another messaged to say: ‘Just not interested anymore.’ Social media is full of this stuff. People are fed up.
They will not calm down while Root is talking in cliches about another hapless performance that threatens to take England back to the bad old days of the 1980s and 1990s when our Test team were regularly a laughing stock.
The ECB need to be careful. For years, they have worked on the basis that England will always fill up its Test venues. Gradually, that assumption has bred complacency: the administrators have taken their eye off the red ball and emptied the coffers on behalf of the Hundred.
Fans will not continue to pay good money for a day at the Test if all they get to watch is another weirdly experimental England side failing to dismiss tailenders with the new ball or collapsing like a souffle at the first sign of pressure.
And if England, who venerate the game’s longest format probably more than any other nation, begin to lose interest, then God help Test cricket.
Just as damagingly for the prospects of the Test team, the ECB have — until now, at least — invested in the illusion that Root is the man to turn things round. On Sunday, even his old mentor Michael Vaughan had to admit that ‘tactically, he was a long way short’ in Grenada. Tactically, he has been precisely that for rather longer.
In each of the three Tests, England’s misuse of DRS cost them, dear. On the last afternoon in Antigua, they failed to review an lbw against Jason Holder that might have opened the door.
In Barbados, they would have removed Jermaine Blackwood for a duck had they gone upstairs. Instead, he made a century that helped save the game.
And in Grenada, they wasted their reviews and with mind-numbing predictability were left with nowhere to go when the West Indian No 11 Jayden Seales was lbw to Saqib Mahmood with their lead still negligible but was spared by the on-field umpire.
There are questions about strategy, too. Crazily, Root went into a series that was supposed to kickstart the red-ball reset without the two greatest bowlers in England’s history, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad.
What he needed above all was a win to halt the mediocrity. Instead, the selectors over-elaborated yet again.
And to what end? Can England honestly say they have learned anything constructive in the Caribbean? Even the observation that Mahmood is a handy bowler isn’t news.
Instead, England have wasted three precious overseas Tests confirming what was obvious to anyone who watched the Ashes: Chris Woakes should be confined to home matches only.
If there has been a more underwhelming opening partnership for England in foreign conditions than Woakes and Craig Overton, it doesn’t spring to mind.
Faced, meanwhile, with the prospect of selecting leg-spinner Matt Parkinson on flat pitches in Antigua and Barbados that cried out for something different, Root went into his default mode — conservatism — and ignored him.
The galling thing is that England did seem to be making progress not so long ago. They won in South Africa in 2019-20, then saw off West Indies and Pakistan at home and Sri Lanka away. When India were sensationally beaten in Chennai in February 2021, England appeared to be on to something.
But they became distracted by bubbles, rotated with bewildering randomness and lost any of the momentum they had promised to take with them to Australia.
Root has been at the helm throughout and has to be accountable.
If not, England fans will continue to be told that the team should not be judged ‘on one bad day’, as batting coach Marcus Trescothick suggested on the third evening in Grenada.
Sooner or later, those fans will reach their own conclusion — and it may not be pretty for the ECB.
Note: This article is written by Lawrence Booth and is published at Daily Mail UK