After a bunch of T20s at the end of January, England return to the Caribbean to face West Indies in a three match Test series, the first of which begins in Antigua on Tuesday as the World Test Championship continues for both sides.
That is one thing these two historic cricketing nations will be playing towards, the other is the Richards-Botham Trophy which marks arguably the two best players to come out of these countries from a cricketing point of view.
This will be the first time we have seen West Indies in Test cricket this year. They have largely been competing in the limited overs stuff so it will be interesting to see how they make the transition from the white ball to the red one. The last time we saw them they were losing to Sri Lanka overseas but in their last home series they held Pakistan so that shows us that they are improving as a side in this format of the game, even if they are miles away from the great teams of yesteryear.
Where West Indies have already needed improvement was with the bat in hand. They always had the bowlers to be competitive, especially on home soil, even allowing for the fact that the pitches are a far cry from the fast and bouncy ones of the 80s and 90s, but their batters all too often got in a rut and killed off their chances before they had got going really. They are steadily getting better in that discipline and here is another chance to prove that.
This will be the first time England will have been in the Test arena since their shambles of an Ashes series at the beginning of the year. The can was always going to be carried for that debacle with the coach getting the chop as well as the director of cricket and a few of the assistant coaches. Some feel England didn’t go far enough with their overhaul with Joe Root surprisingly keeping the captaincy. Paul Collingwood is the temporary coach for this tour and he has the chance to show his credentials in this series.
Coach or no coach this England side need to start scoring runs and regularly. Their batting for the past two years has been a joke with the exception of Joe Root and every now and again Ben Stokes. Until they sort their batting out this is a side that is going to continue in red ball cricket and now they have made the incredible decision to move on from Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, for now at least, their batters are going to be needed to come to the party in a big way here. England hit rock bottom in Australia and it will be interesting to see if they are ready to come up a little against a side whom they have a terrible away record against.
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Surprisingly given his record against England, Roston Chase has been dropped and John Campbell will come into the side to open. It looks like the spin option for West Indies will be Veerasammy Permaul for the first time in seven years.
It is pretty much a known thing that England are going without Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad for this series. The plan was to give Ollie Robinson the new ball but his questionable fitness has already caught up with him. Alex Lees is expected to make his England debut while Saqib Mahmood will be hoping to do likewise although Craig Overton looks likely to get the nod.
I will ease my way into this series with the one bet as we are still not completely sure how England will line up and how they will go under a new coach and without their two legendary bowlers. That bet comes in the form of the performance of Jason Holder, the former West Indies captain who terrorised England in the T20 series here earlier in the year and who could be even more problematic in the Test series now too.
It would appear that Holder will bat at six in this series and a stint in county cricket means he will have faced whichever combination of bowlers England go in with. It looks like the four seamers will be Chris Woakes, Craig Overton, Mark Wood and Ben Stokes and the pace of Wood aside there is nothing to worry Holder there. Holder is a very accomplished batter these days but on a pitch which is said to be cracked from the outset he could well get plenty of indifferent bounce throughout this match. He is also a decent fielder so he has three scoring options in play. His performance line is 108.5 and with a combination of the three scoring methods I think he surpasses that on a pitch which should suit his style.
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