Despite the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) have managed to overcome a number of hurdles in order to get the series on, albeit a month later than it was originally scheduled to take place.
Both boards deserve huge credit for enabling cricket to return safely but special praise must go the West Indies players, many of whom left areas almost unaffected by coronavirus to travel to a country which has reported more than 44,000 deaths.
Disparities in the impact of coronavirus on BAME communities makes their commitment – and that of Pakistan, who have arrived in England ahead of next month’s series – even more impressive and should not be forgotten.
As well as battling for the Wisden Trophy – currently held by West Indies after their 2-1 victory in the Caribbean last year – the teams also intend to show their support to Black Lives Matter during this series. Players will wear BLM logos on their playing shirts and are expected to take a knee before the first Test.
The hosts, meanwhile, will honour key workers from the coronavirus pandemic by wearing training shirts with the names of individuals who have been nominated by their local cricket clubs.
England v West Indies schedule
First Test: 8-12 July (The Ageas Bowl)
Second Test: 16-20 July (Emirates Old Trafford)
Third Test: 24-28 July (Emirates Old Trafford)
Ben Stokes vs Jason Holder
It can be slightly clichéd to pit the best and most important player from each team against each other. Clearly, one could outperform the other and still end up on the losing team. But it will be fascinating to see which premier all-rounder comes out on top over the next month, and their respective performances will undoubtedly go a long way to deciding the outcome of the series.
In the first Test at least, it is a case of captain vs captain. With Joe Root leaving England’s bubble to attend the birth of his second child, Stokes was confirmed as the team’s stand-in skipper last week.
Some have expressed concern at burdening Stokes with even more responsibility, but in a one-off match it could work to his advantage. This is a player, after all, who has produced time and time again when the spotlight is on him.
That being said, it was Holder who dominated the last series between these teams, scoring 229 runs in three innings compared to Stokes’ 183 in six, and taking only three fewer wickets than Stokes in half as many overs. And despite Stokes’ brilliance over the past 12 months, Holder remains the top-ranked all-rounder in Test cricket.
Kemar Roach vs England’s top-order
Much has been made of the Windies’ pace attack – and for good reason. Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph and Holder represent an exciting and versatile group of bowlers who will be expected to provide a thorough examination of England’s talented but inexperienced batting unit.
While Gabriel is the quickest of the lot, 32-year-old Roach will lead the attack and be the key cog. Success in series gone by shows he has the pace and control to thrive and he believes he is a better bowler than the one England came up against 18 months ago.
He will surely fancy his chances, too, against a number of players still making their way in international cricket and who have not played competitively in months. England’s top-four for the first Test – Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly and Zak Crawley – have all impressed to some degree or another over the past year but none have cemented their place in the side, and therein lies Windies’ opportunity.
England’s pace bowlers
James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, Sam Curran, Olly Stone, Ollie Robinson, Saqib Mahmood, Craig Overton. Among that list are a couple of England legends, a handful of proven England stars and a few uncapped players. The return of fitness of Anderson, Archer and Wood – and the emergence of Robinson and Stone – means England are blessed with fast-bowling options this summer.
Despite the fact that three back-to-back Tests mean rotation will not only be likely but necessary, the England selectors have their work cut out whittling down the large group of pace bowlers to just three, presuming a spinner is selected in each match.
Anderson is England’s greatest-ever bowler but has broken down in two of his last three Test matches. Broad is another legend of the game but faces ever-increasing competition from the younger crop. Archer could be a red-ball superstar, but is only just coming back from a long injury lay-off. Wood is capable of producing devastating spells, but has also been an injury risk. Robinson, Stone and Overton, meanwhile, have all been earmarked as contenders for the next Ashes trip to Australia.
It will be fascinating to see which bowlers come out of this series with their reputations enhanced.
Likely teams for first Test
Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Zak Crawley, Ben Stokes (c), Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Dom Bess, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
John Campbell, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope, Shamarh Brooks, Jermaine Blackwood, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich (wk), Jason Holder (c), Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph
Top run-scorer: Ben Stokes
England’s best and most consistent batsman over the past two years. Looks well-placed to come in at number five and score a stack load of runs. The highly-rated Ollie Pope can also enjoy another prolific series.
Leading wicket-taker: Kemar Roach
It’s difficult to predict which bowlers will make it through the demanding schedule unscathed and England may be more likely to rotate their pace attack given the fact they also have matches against Pakistan to plan for. Roach has proven a determined and effective bowler in recent years and could just about come out on top in an admittedly competitive field.
Series score: England 3-0 West Indies
Apart from during their victory in South Africa last winter, England have rarely won three consecutive Test matches in recent years, but they should prove too strong for a West Indies team which boasts an impressive pace attack but a potentially lean and fragile batting order.
In truth, both bowing attacks will fancy their chances over the next month but the Windies will struggle to compete with England’s superior batsmen.
West Indies have not won a Test series in England since 1988 and it appears unlikely they will provide a shock here, although recent history has proven that you write the Windies off at your peril.
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