By Ravendra Madholall
Familiar foes West Indies and England are ready to rumble in a three-match test series with the first encounter commencing on Tuesday at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua and Barbuda. They will be competing for the Richards/Ian Botham trophy.
Psychologically, the hosts hold the advantage having disposed of the Englishmen 2-1 the last time they met in the Caribbean in 2019.
West Indies won their games convincingly by 381 runs and ten wickets in the first and second test respectively but England saved off the indignity of a white-wash with a resounding 232-run victory.
Some confidence though for the men from Europe having placed relatively high on the Rankings at number 4 while West Indies down at 8.
England had a four-day warm-up match against a Cricket West Indies President’s X1 in which the contest petered out to a draw but they would have seen some individual, outstanding performances which will bring a great amount of motivation for this first-match engagement.
No player from West Indies featured in the practice game but the team composition seems competitive on paper especially with several players excelled against England, 2019.
West Indies can bank on their skipper and opener Kraigg Brathwaite not only for his shrewd leadership but his experience of 74 test appearances to lead from the front with the bat.
He should rely on the other batsmen to come to the fore. The recalled John Campbell, who is likely to accompany him at the top. Vice-captain Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Kyle Mayers and Shamarh Brooks are the other frontline batsmen. Their averages are not that impressive but great opportunity for them to rekindle and at the same time exhibiting their natural talents.
Wicketkeeper/batsman Joshua Da Silva and the versatile all-rounder Jason Holder are capable of producing solid knocks as well.
The bowling will center around a five-man pace attack led by Kemar Roach, Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Jayden Seales and the uncapped Anderson Phillips while left-arm orthodox spinner Veerassamy Permaul is the only option as a slow-bowler.
Towards the end of 2019, Permaul made a comeback after a hiatus of five consecutive years owing to continued omission and made an impression in Sri Lanka where West Indies suffered a two-match test series defeat.
Perhaps, new Chief of Selectors Desmond Haynes feels the Guyanese Permaul can handle the responsibility as the specialist spinner against a formidable England batting lineup.
On the other hand, England would expect the home team to be fierce again and no hesitation they are looking to replicate their 2019’s historical performances.
England will be seeking redemption as well after they would have been humiliated in their last test series outing capitulating to a 4-0 drubbing in the famous five-match Ashes series against hosts Australia 2021/2022. The other fixture was drawn.
Skipper Joe Root, an acclaimed batsman, has been in prolific form while some inexperienced players should do well on these docile tracks in the Caribbean.
Root, who has an immaculate test record, can count heavily on ace player Ben Stokes while senior glovesman Jonny Bairstow slammed a century (106*) in the warm-up game to boost his confidence tremendously.
Several other batsman chalked up inspiring half-centuries and no doubt anxious to transfer them into the test series.
England are here to experiment too since their two stalwart fast-bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad have been dropped much to the amusement of many cricket fans.
However, quickie Mark Wood has the ability to lead the new crop of fast-bowlers including Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes and Saqib Mahmood along with left-arm spinner Jack Leach and others.