With the first Test match in the ‘raise the bat’ series between the West Indies and England set to bowl off in just six days on Wednesday in Southampton, I am certain that every cricket pundit has gone through the regional squad.
We can easily conclude that the bowling will take care of itself with a handful of fast bowlers all gearing up to give the English batsmen a torrid time in their own backyard. The off-spin of Rahkeem Cornwall and Roston Chase will pick up some wickets if the pitch has any turn in it, so I do expect the bowling to come good and if we hold on to our catches, I see no reason why we can’t dismiss the English for under 300.
The batting poses the biggest problem. Our openers Kraigg Brathwaite and possibly John Campbell are not solid enough and the former, in particular, has had a serious dip in his performances over the last few series. It will be, make or break, for the vice-captain as if he continues to fail, the selectors will have to look elsewhere.
Somehow, I believe that Brathwaite acknowledges that fact but he has to bear the brunt of the batting with Shai Hope. Young Sheyne Moseley and Joshua Da Silva (both not in the Test squad) gave encouraging displays in the warm-up matches but we will have to wait and see who the selectors will opt for as the specialist batsmen.
Let’s, however, take a look at the opposition and make a determination of whether we can put a dent in this England team again, who were taken by surprise here in the Caribbean last year and beaten 2-1 in the previous Test series. That victory returned the coveted Wisden trophy into the hands of the West Indies.
Like the West Indies, I believe the weak point in this England squad is their batting. They possess two World-class players in Joe Root and Ben Stokes.
Root will miss the first Test due to his wife giving birth and for him to be out is a huge psychological advantage for the West Indies as England will not only miss his stability with the bat at number four but also his astute and calm leadership skills.
The captaincy job has been handed to Stokes, whose personality is just the opposite of Root. He is a firebrand and if things are not going according to plan, Stokes may well lose his cool and do something completely unorthodox as has happened in the past. His personality as a cricketer is one to take chances which may, in fact, work for the team but if it goes wrong, it can go horribly wrong. But there is no doubt that if in the mood, Ben Stokes is the type of cricketer that can take the attack to the West Indies.
Since the departure of Alastair Cook from the top of the order, England has been trying to find the right combination and it appears that Rory Burns is the number one opener. His unfortunate injury in South Africa back in December last year sidelined him after the first Test match in which he scored 84 runs in one inning.
The opening slot was given to Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley and they had some success against the Proteas but were never really consistent. Sibley scored one century from seven innings while Crawley scored one half-century from five innings.
The English selectors seem to favour Joe Denly at number three with Root at four. Denley had a disastrous series and only scored one half-century averaging around 30 - far below that of what you would expect from your number three batsman. With Root missing, I expect the top four English batsmen to be Burns, Sibley, Crawley and Denly; unless in their three-day practice match a couple of the other batsmen like Keaton Jennings score heavily and force the selectors’ hands to make changes.
If our bowlers can make early inroads into the top four English batsmen, it could set us up well to dismiss them in the region of 200. However, it is here the job becomes difficult as, in my view, any three of the next four batsmen in Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Ollie Pope are all capable of getting hundreds. Ironically, the latter three are all wicket-keeper batsmen.
The off-spinning all-rounder, Moeen Ali, is back having missed the last series so too is left-arm spinner Jack Leach - both are top quality spinners but will the English selectors opt for one of them or will they stick with the off-spinner Dom Bess who captured 11 wickets in three Tests against the South Africans? Whoever is chosen will present a challenge for the Windies batsmen.
Our sternest test will come against their quick bowlers and boy, do they have a World-class selection! James Anderson and Stuart Broad have taken 1,069 Test wickets between them and as a pair, they work magnificently well. I must comment on Bajan born Jofra Archer on what a fine bowler he is. Let's hope that he tries too hard and loses his line (wishful thinking?).
Meanwhile, Mark Wood is a fiery and aggressive bowler which is what you need in a Test bowler. Sam Curran adds the variety with his left-arm seamers and Chris Woakes is a fine exponent of swinging the ball both ways but I can’t see either making the final eleven. Then, of course, is the medium pace of Stokes who takes wickets at crucial times in a game.
West Indies batsmen will certainly have to work hard and apply themselves, especially if coach Phil Simmons wants them to score in the region of 400. So too, will the English batsmen have to work hard without skipper Root. At the end of it all, the series will be won by the team that bats better but by all accounts, it will be a bowlers’ series. Good luck, West Indies!
Editor’s note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not reflect the views of any organisation of which he is a stakeholder.