England v West Indies preview

The West Indies come to England fresh from a disappointing 0-2 defeat at home to Australia. They only performed passably well even at the best of times during that series and were frequently dire. Despite England’s recent woes in the subcontinent and similar regions, they are a side who have lost only two Tests at home since the start of 2009 and are still number one in the world. It is fair to say that if the Windies are going to come close in this series, they will have to perform far, far better than they did at home.

History, or at least recent history, is against them. They have not won an overseas Test somewhere other than Bangladesh since the Boxing Day Test in South Africa in 2007. The last time they won a Test in England was at Edgbaston in 2000; since then they have lost 12 and only managed to draw two. Their coach, Ottis Gibson, said that his hope for the Lord’s Test was to take it into a fifth day this time. This was in reference to their defeat inside three days at the home of cricket in 2009. That hope may be a bit optimistic. They have selected a squad which on paper appears to be slightly weaker than the one which lost to Australia and they have started the tour by losing to the Lions by ten wickets. In truth, they did well to make it that close. The Lions, boasting England’s third choice bowling attack, bowled the West Indies out for 147 in the first innings and went on to post a lead of 196. The Windies did come back a bit in the second innings, however.

Their performance against the Lions shows the fact that their batting almost begins and ends with Shivnarine Chanderpaul. He is a true great, but we have already seen that one great cannot carry a poor side. The rest of them have talent, and we saw some of that in the first innings of the first Test against Australia, but they are also very prone to give their wickets away (as we saw in the rest of that series). The West Indies will be facing arguably the best pace attack in the world in very friendly conditions. It is a far cry from the flat pitches and weak attacks on the subcontinent, or even the turning ones pitches from the recent series in the Caribbean. They occasionally performed well in those places, but even then were prone to collapses. Even if they were to cut out all the mistakes that have plagued them recently I think they will find the going very difficult and they are up against an attack that thrives on coaxing batsmen into errors. Last year India failed to pass 300 in four Tests; the Windies have only three and I would not be at all surprised to see the same result.

They will clearly need something from their bowlers. Unfortunately, their best performers at home were probably the spinners and despite England’s struggles against turn over the winter, they are unlikely to be more than a supplement in England. A lot will rest on their pace attack. Again there is some talent, but of what would appear to be their first choice attack (Fidel Edwards, Kemar Roach and Darren Sammy) only Roach has a bowling average under 30. They may cause some damage in friendly conditions, but these are home conditions for England’s batsmen and they put a pair of similar attacks to the sword last summer. Given that their batsmen already liable to give them a mountain to climb, I think it will be a tough ask for the West Indies bowlers.

England are strong favourites, but do go in under a bit of pressure after the disappointing winter. There is a strong sense that nothing less than three emphatic wins will do. As mentioned above, however, they have lost only twice at home in twenty Tests under Strauss and Flower. (They’ve won 14 of those Tests.) Most of the side have scored runs in the Championship already (no easy feat) with Cook the only exception and he has not had a lot of opportunities. As already mentioned, Bairstow looks like he will be batting at six. After the struggles of the winter, the batsmen do seem to have found some form and should present a formidable opposition to the Windies. The biggest hope will be that Strauss can get some big runs and ease the (insane) questions about his place in the side. He has a pair of decent scores in the Championship already, including an unbeaten 43 in Middlesex’s last match, and I do not see any reason why he could not push on from there.

England will probably be playing either Finn or Bresnan as a third seamer, though Onions is also in the squad. Whoever is picked will have an excellent opportunity to nail down the spot for the series against South Africa, but that’s assuming whoever it is (I’m guessing Finn) gets much of a bowl. Jimmy Anderson finished the series in Sri Lanka looking like the best bowler in the world and Stuart Broad had been in excellent form in the UAE before picking up an injury. They have both, especially Jimmy, shown themselves to be formidable weapons in all conditions and in May in England against a side prone to collapse I expect them to take bags of wickets. Swann will also be useful, he always is, but I doubt he will have an opportunity to do much more than chip in with a few wickets.

I can’t see the West Indies winning a Test. I said before the Australia series that I thought they had a chance to steal one from that series, but they could not and England are a much different proposition. I’ve already mentioned that at Lord’s in 2009 they lost before stumps on the third day. At Durham in 2007 the entire first day and quite a bit of the second day was lost to rain, but England still won comfortably. England are now a much better side than they were in either 2007 or 2009, whilst the Windies are arguably worse. Unless it rains non-stop for three days during one of the Tests I can see no other result than a 3-0 whitewash for England.

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