England in West Indies: Joe Root's men must learn before Ashes

Joe Root
England slipped to fifth in the Test rankings after defeat in the West Indies

Sport is more enjoyable when it is unpredictable.

It was not predicted that England would lose in the West Indies in the manner that they have. In that sense, the series has been very interesting.

In general, England are a better Test team than the Windies, but they have not shown that here. Even though they deserve credit for bouncing back to win the third Test in St Lucia by 232 runs, they were well beaten in the first two.

Overall, then, to lose a series that they probably should have won is a disappointing return for Joe Root's men.

In defeat, though, they will look for what they can take forwards into an Ashes summer. If they regain the urn from Australia because of the lessons learned in the Caribbean, this tour will eventually gain a silver lining.

The main lesson will be to look at the way they have batted in St Lucia and contrast it with the collapses that led to the defeats in Barbados and Antigua.

In the third Test, they were much more disciplined, playing in the way that Test cricket should be approached.

Yes, everyone likes to see bold, aggressive and attacking cricket, but first you have to do the hard yards. To "earn the right" is a phrase that seems to be bandied around in the England team.

If this really is a light bulb moment, if England go away having learned that discretion is the better part of valour, then they will feel that it has been worthwhile.

Linked to this is what I talked about before the series began, namely the aim of nailing down a regular top three, filling holes that have been left open for too long.

The results have been mixed.

Opener Keaton Jennings was dropped after the first Test and failed to take his chance when he was recalled for the third.

England will probably move on from Jennings now, not least because Mitchell Starc and company could make mincemeat of his weakness outside the off stump if he plays in the Ashes. He must iron out that flaw in his game if he is to get another stab at Test cricket.

The other two men who found themselves in the top three at the end of this series, Rory Burns and Joe Denly, leave the Caribbean with their reputations just about enhanced.

They made a half-century each, which, though not stellar, gives England enough reason to persevere with them, especially when you consider the paucity of options available in county cricket.

In Burns' case, his first winter of Test cricket has been played on difficult pitches - turners in Sri Lanka and the inconsistent bounce of the Caribbean. He looks like he knows his game and should get another chance.

As for Denly, he is strong off the back foot and drives nicely through the covers. I like the look of how he bats.

If those two have been a marginal success, the re-emergence of Mark Wood as the sort of fast bowler who can add bite and spite to the England attack is a genuine plus. I spoke on Sunday, after his maiden five-wicket haul, about how they will have to manage him between now and the Ashes.

Amid all the talk of selection, we must not forget that England have only one remaining Test - a four-day match against Ireland in July - before the Ashes start on 1 August.

England's schedule
20 Feb - 10 Mar: 5 ODIs & 3 T20s v West Indies
3 May: 1 ODI v Ireland
11-19 May: 5 ODIs v Pakistan
30 May - 14 July: World Cup in England and Wales
24-27 July: 1 Test v Ireland
1 Aug - 16 Sept: The Ashes, 5 Tests v Australia

They now turn their attention to white-ball cricket and the build-up to the much-anticipated World Cup.

For some of the players, it will be a relief to be able to focus on a tournament in which they will start as favourites.

The five one-day internationals here will be competitive, especially with the West Indies calling on an old-stager like Chris Gayle. For England, the main priority will be to not lose any of the momentum that they have built over the past four years.

If England do well in the World Cup, going on to win it, I can see that having a big impact on the Ashes.

It would get people talking about cricket and have them right behind the team. Yes, some of the players will be different, but any sort of success can only be a good thing.

Over the past few weeks we have seen England suffer some chastening defeats and Australia get some of their house in order with two big wins over Sri Lanka. All the time, the clock ticks down until the end of the suspensions handed to Steve Smith and David Warner.

As the home team, I have England as slight favourites - if they learn from their Caribbean disappointment.

In a huge summer, it should be a fascinating Ashes series.

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

Top Stories