Nobody ever beats England. England only ever lose of their own accord, by their own hand, from their own failings. This is doubly true if England are playing a team they generally expect to beat and, from the outbreak of ritual bloodletting that has followed the narrow 1-0 defeat in the recent Test series, West Indies certainly seem to have fallen into that category.
Why this might be the case is less easily explained. England have not won a Test series in the Caribbean since 2004. Four members of that touring party were commentating on this series. Three are current members of the backroom setup. Two were recently sacked from that setup. One is now the host of Top Gear.
Before that, you have go back to Colin Cowdrey’s side of 1967-68 and an ill-advised declaration by Garfield Sobers in Trinidad. One series win in 54 years. And yet somehow England keep returning to these islands with the same blind optimism, embarking on this assignment with the same baseless expectation, leaving with the same sense of prickled outrage.
So Kyle Mayers doesn’t take seven wickets in Grenada. Instead, England throw their wickets away, in the same way that Joshua Da Silva doesn’t hit a match-winning century but simply watches his total increase as a result of England’s bowlers losing the plot. And despite what Jayden Seales, Jason Holder or Alzarri Joseph might tell you, no bowler in the history of cricket has ever dismissed Zak Crawley. Crawley, like James Vince and Jos Buttler before him, only ever gets himself out.
Perhaps it should not be overly surprising that England’s latest defeat has inspired another round of gloomy introspection and screaming psychodrama, of grown men on the internet grumbling about pitches and pathways, of ex-pros in the media glowering in funereal tones. “Honestly Butch, this is the worst England team I’ve seen in 40 years of watching cricket.” We got high on this kind of performative indignation during the Ashes, and some of us remain addicted to it.
But many of the analyses to have emerged over recent days lapse beyond simple partisanship, into a kind of self-obsession. One series review from a respected English cricket correspondent this week somehow managed to name-check eight of the England side, two players not involved in the series, two former captains (Nasser Hussain and Andrew Strauss) and a former coach (Duncan Fletcher), without mentioning a single West Indian.
This is not simply an editorial focus. It’s a worldview, and a particularly shrunken one at that: underpinned by the basic idea that England, even at their lowest ebb against skilled opponents in foreign conditions, should be the sole masters of their own destiny.
West Indies, of course, were forced to shake themselves free of that delusion some time ago. For years they have been forced to pick teams not remotely representative of their collective talent, but based solely on who is still available after politics, emigration and franchise Twenty20 have taken their toll. In another world, the likes of Nicholas Pooran, Sherfane Rutherford and Romario Shepherd might have been the backbone of a thriving West Indies Test side. Instead they are all at the Indian Premier League, cut adrift from the national team by the great flood of market forces.
That West Indies even have a Test team worthy of the name is an impressive feat in itself; that they can still thrive occasionally – in the past 14 months they have won in Bangladesh and drawn with Sri Lanka and Pakistan – is a testament to their enduring talent and skill, the hunger and selflessness to submit to a common goal in an age when even to play red-ball cricket is often an act of self-denial. This is a team with stars but no celebrities; with journeymen but no passengers; whose limited circumstances have forced them to embrace the very qualities – patience, discipline, culture and long-term vision – that English cricket has so stunningly mislaid.
Four years ago Nkrumah Bonner was a construction worker in Houston. Five years ago Da Silva had no professional deal and was playing Surrey league cricket. Veerasammy Permaul grew up without a television and had to sneak out of the house to play soft-ball games in the street. Kraigg Brathwaite has survived for 77 Tests in one of the hardest eras ever to open the batting. When his team are rolled over, it is seen as a sad indictment of the game. When they resist, people moan about dead pitches and boring cricket.
The point is not that these people need your love or esteem. The point is that England didn’t simply lose a Test series; West Indies won it. And perhaps a genuine red‑ball reset in this country would involve recognising that England do not have an automatic entitlement to win games of cricket, that losing 1-0 against West Indies need not necessarily be a source of soul-searching and national disgrace, that victorious opponents deserve better than to be cast as extras in a Joe Root captaincy saga.
This is an exceptionalism that runs through the blood of English cricket. We saw it in the scandalously late decision to cancel the tour of Pakistan, the reluctance to embrace white-ball innovation in the 2000s and 2010s, the reduction of so many Test series to “Ashes warmup” status. Perhaps, instead of another round of sackings and another wave of self-hatred, what this moment really needs is a little air, a little perspective, a little credit where it’s due.