ENGvWI 1st Test Preview: West Indies batting will be the differentiator on Stokes' captaincy debut
Both England and West Indies realise that they are part of something historic and will give it their all to make the return of international cricket a thunderous success.
Venue - The Rose Bowl, Southampton
Start time - 10:00 AM GMT/11:00 AM LOCAL
Head to Head record in Tests - England: 49 West Indies: 57 Drawn: 51
Weather - Showers, 14-20°C, Precipitation: 40%, Humidity: 74%, Wind: 21 km/h
March 13 was the last day when fans witnessed international cricket in the first ODI between Australia and New Zealand. The match was played behind closed doors. Thereafter, that series and the one between India and South Africa were called off due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On July 8, after almost four months, international cricket returns in the form of a three-match Test series between England and West Indies.
England's recent dominance in Wisden Trophy series
Up for grabs is the historic Wisden trophy which England have either won or retained on the last four of the five occasions. However, in the last series between the two teams in the Caribbean, the home side managed to snatch it back with a 2-1 victory.
With conditions and squad strength in their favour, England will have every opportunity to have the trophy back. That said, more than half the members of the West Indies squad were part of the Test series when West Indies pulled off the surprise victory and will take confidence from the feat.
Although England are coming off three successive Test victories against South Africa, their top order still has enough chinks to exploit. The West Indies bowling line-up is more than capable of doing that.
But, the result of the match, and the series will hinge on the performance of the West Indies batters. The onus would be on Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite who have shown what they are capable of against this very opposition. If Windies can bat time, the series will turn out to be closer than expected.
Zak Crawley to bat at Root's spot
England have named a 13-man squad for the first Test which has cleared the picture to a large extent. Rory Burns is back after an ankle injury and will open the batting alongside Dominic Sibley. Zak Crawley who opened in Burns' absence will move down to number 4 to plug the hole created by Joe Root's paternity leave.
Joe Denly, despite not being able to convert his starts, has the backing of Chris Silverwood and will retain the number 3 spot. His main role would be to bat long and provide stability. Stand-in skipper Ben Stokes and England's rising batting star Ollie Pope will bat at 5 and 6 respectively.
Jos Buttler, who has been facing the heat for not being able to produce runs, will be in at number 7.
Wood or Archer?
Dom Bess is the team's leading spinner and will complement the pace duo of Stuart Broad and James Anderson.
The real question for England would be to choose between Mark Wood and Jofra Archer. There will be a temptation to play both but given the narrow window in which the series is being played, rotation will have to be followed. With Jofra Archer having just returned after an elbow injury, Mark Wood is expected to get a nod ahead of him.
Holder's bat needs to fire
Jason Holder's batting form and fitness is a cause of concern for the visitors. Holder did not look his best in West Indies' two intra-squad matches. The all-rounder was the top run-scorer for West Indies in the last Wisden trophy and his batting seems to have taken a hit from then on.
Holder will be a key player for West Indies alongside all-rounder Roston Chase and Kemar Roach, who were the architects of West Indies' last series victory over England.
Shannon Gabriel has been added to the West Indies squad after shining in the warm-up games on the back of a knee surgery. Alzarri Joseph is likely to join him, Holder and Roach to complete the pace attack.
It is their batting which will make or break the Test match. While Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope will be frontrunners to put runs on the board, John Campbell, Shamarh Brooks and Jermaine Blackwood are the other talented batsmen in the West Indies line-up.
Chances of light showers on Day 1 and 2
There is a chance of showers that might hold up play for some time on Wednesday and Thursday, the first two days of the Test. However, the weather will clear up as the match proceeds. The temperatures will be in the range of 10-22 degree centigrade and the playing conditions will be on the side of cool and damp.
As the cliche goes, much will depend on how the game begins. Although England are expected to win the match by a decent margin, West Indies will have the best chance if they can win the toss and put England in. If they find the conducive conditions and the ball hoops around, even without saliva, West Indies can ride on the momentum from there on.
All in all, the players realise that they are part of something historic and will give it their all to make the return of international cricket a thunderous success.
Here's a look at the probable playing XI of both teams:
England - Rory Burns, Dominic Sibley, Joe Denly, Zak Crawley, Ben Stokes (c), Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Dom Bess, Mark Wood/Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
West Indies - Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shai Hope, Shamarh Brooks, Roston Chase, Jermaine Blackwood, Shane Dowrich (wk), Jason Holder (c), Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph, Shannon Gabriel
Team squads and reserves:
England squad for first Test: Ben Stokes (c), James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Dominic Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Joe Denly, Ollie Pope, Dom Sibley, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
Reserves: James Bracey, Sam Curran, Ben Foakes, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Saqib Mahmood, Craig Overton, Ollie Robinson, Olly Stone
Windies Squad: Jason Holder (c), Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope, Shane Dowrich, Roston Chase, Shemarh Brooks, Rahkeem Cornwall, Nkrumah Bonner, Alzarri Joseph, Chemar Holder, John Campbell, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach, Jermaine Blackwood
Reserves: Sunil Ambris, Joshua Da Silva, Shannon Gabriel, Keon Harding, Kyle Mayers, Preston McSween, Marquino Mindley, Shane Moseley, Anderson Phillip, Oshane Thomas, Jomel Warrican
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