Shannon Gabriel may have taken just five wickets out of 27 taken by the Windies fast bowlers in this series so far after two Test matches, but going into the third and final Test of the Wisden series in St. Lucia, the English has focussed its attention on the strapping quick from La Romaine in South Trinidad.
When the visitors already down 0-2 in the series show up at the Darren Sammy International Cricket ground this morning, they will be greeted by the quickest piece of earth in the Caribbean. The track at this ground is what you call a 'fair' one, that gives to anyone who is willing to work hard. The fast bowlers will not have to bend their backs much to get the ball flying head high to Shane Dowrich standing close to the 30-yard circle.
With the Wisden Trophy already in the grasp of the Windies team, England will be out today to save face and avoid the ignominy of a 'blackwash'.
Gabriel who grabbed 13 wickets in the Test match against Sri Lanka at this venue last year, will be licking his chops at the prospects of adding to his 125 Test scalps.
Windies will go into the Test without skipper Jason Holder because of his one-match suspension due to his team's tardy overrate. Holder has been brilliant with both bat and ball but his absence allows the home team to unleash yet another fast bowler who can bowl it consistently around 90Kmph.
With the clever artist Kemar Roach operating on a venue he likes as well and young firebrand Alzari Joseph also ramping it up to around 90, as well, England will have their work cut out in this match.
Gabriel speaking ahead of the match said: "This series win is a great achievement for us. Thinking back about last year when we lost 0-2 in Bangladesh, we were all hurting. Thankfully, we stuck together and we came out and showcased our talents. And to show some improvement. This series win has been great and I’m really pleased to be part of it. We have great confidence and we are definitely looking to make it 3-0. We’re not just going for the win, we’re also playing for the people of the Caribbean and we are also playing for points to move up the Test rankings.”
The strongly-built 30-year-old returns to the venue where he performed heroics last June against Sri Lanka – with 13 wickets for 121 runs – the third best match figures in West Indies history. He has climbed to Number 12 in the ICC Test bowling rankings. He is joined in the Top 20 by team-mates Jason Holder (Number 6) and Kemar Roach (Number 11).
He said, “This ground has been good to me, I’ve had some good times on this ground where I bowled well and got wickets. It suits my style of fast bowling and I did well last year when we played against Sri Lanka. It’s a fast pitch with some bounce, so I’m expecting the same kind of pitch here again this year.”
Windies assistant coach Vasbert Drakes is excited: "The sky is the limit for this side as they continue to grow. The guys understand the legacy of West Indies cricket and they want to continue to inspire the next generation of cricketers to play the game. The guys are playing really good cricket. I'm really proud as an ex-West Indies cricketer. All kudos to the players. We're really looking forward to playing in St Lucia. It reminds me of the wickets that were prepared for us, the West Indians, in the '70s and '80s. That's the environment we're trying to create. The objective is to make sure we have pace. Kemar Roach has really started to mature as a bowler and Shannon Gabriel has the X-factor for us. I'm really excited to be part of this squad where we continue to put fear in opposition hearts."
He added, "I wouldn't use the words so strong to say 'intimidate with pace' but when you have pace, as someone who played the game as a fast bowler, it gives you a little more option of being able to outfox the batters. At the moment that's what we have in our favour so we're going to utilize it to our advantage on the cricket field."
Meanwhile, England has injury concerns to deal with as key all-rounder Ben Stokes has been missing training due to a bruised right heel. He will have to pass a fitness test this morning before he can take his place in a wounded and downtrodden team.
Ben Foakes who gave up the gloves, early in the Test match in Antigua after being struck on the hand will also undergo a fitness test this morning. As a precaution, Jonny Bairstow had an extended session with the gloves during practice yesterday.
The English team took a rest for four days after the last Test loss in Antigua and was back at it yesterday. "Sometimes that time away from the game and talking is just as valuable as the physical practice," batsman Jos Buttler, 28, said.
Action starts at 10 am.
Windies: Kraigg Brathwaite (Captain), Darren Bravo, Shamarh Brooks, John Campbell, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Shannon Gabriel, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Keemo Paul, Kemar Roach, Oshane Thomas, Jomel Warrican.
England: Joe Root (Captain), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Ben Foakes, Keaton Jennings, Jack Leach, Adil Rashid, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.