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Advantage England but WI ready

By Bryan Davis, Former West Indies Test cricketer

July 8 is the day the bell would ring for the first round of cricket matches that would take place to determine which of the two teams is superior between England and West Indies. The first Test match is being played at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, the home of the Hampshire County Cricket Club.

The defending champion is West Indies (WI) which wrested the Wisden trophy from the tight grip of the Englishmen, in the Caribbean in early 2019. They won the three-match series by two Tests to one under the captaincy of Jason Holder through a harvest of wickets collected by Kemar Roach (18 wkts) with support from the other quickies, Alzarri Joseph (10), Shannon Gabriel (9) and Holder (7) in two Tests, having not played in the third through injury.

WI played brilliant cricket under Holder’s captaincy but lost the third and final Test under the ineffective leadership of Kraigg Brathwaite. The convincing wins of the first two Tests were by 381 runs and by 10 wickets in the second.

The batting was good and touched greatness through the excellence of skipper Holder who, in the second innings of the first Test at Kensington Oval, Barbados, scored 202 not out together with wicketkeeper/batsman Shane Dowrich (116 not out) which removed all fight from the Englishmen.

The visitors were so shook up that they succumbed to the gentle slow off-rollers offered up by Roston Chase who ended with 8 for 60 in 21.4.  These were amazing figures but still did not earn bowler status for the right-handed batsman, who did not sneak in another wicket for the series in 49 overs!

In England, where pitches on the best of days are known for their assistance to seam bowlers, our batting would be tested. Nonetheless, in their previous tour of England, Shai Hope scored a hundred in either innings in the second Test at Leeds in Yorkshire, to become the only batsman, Test or first-class, to accomplish this feat on that ancient ground.

Jermaine Blackwood accompanied him and a couple of brilliant scores by Kraigg Brathwaite of 134 and 95 gave WI an unlikely victory by five wickets.

That’s the type of tenacity and determination needed for the team to be victorious in this series.

While WI are the visitors and not playing in the home conditions they’re accustomed to, they ought to take heart from the fact that they actually whipped the Englishmen out of sight in the Caribbean last year so that’s an advantage! And they are the proud holders of the Wisden trophy, the symbol of superiority between the two countries on the cricket field.

All of the team that participated in that series in the WI are in England on this tour except for Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer and Keemo Paul, who all opted out because of the danger associated with the pandemic.

However, Bravo scores in that three-test series were 2, 1, 50, 6 and zero! A total of 59 in 5 innings, an average of 11.8. Hetmyer, though not as awful as Bravo, was still not what was expected of one of the West Indies so-called top batsmen.  He had the following: 57, 3, 44, 1 and 14! A total of 119 in 5 innings an average of 23.8.

And these two batsmen had us feeling that they would be missed in the WI batting line-up against England one year later! Hopefully, the newcomers like Sharmah Brooks and Nkrumah Bonner, would grab this chance to cement places on the team. It is challenging, but with enthusiasm for the occasion and the motivation of opportunity, it can be done.

The fast bowlers that destroyed England in the WI last year are on the tour and rearing to go. There is Roach, whose 18 wickets will probably have some English batsmen apprehensive at this stage. Then there’s Shannon Gabriel, recovering from an ankle injury, nevertheless he sounds as if he’s healing well and excited to have a go.

The skipper of course, a steady bowler, capable of frustrating batsmen, thereby luring them into errors and claiming their wickets; and we have that elusive fast bowler, Alzarri Joseph, who is capable of breaking through the strongest of defences to assert his dominance.

Under these circumstances one cannot foretell how things will go because with the frustration of a lockdown and the boredom it produces, it can play a big part in one’s preparation.

It is difficult to judge the character of those involved plus how they would react to these extraordinary and peculiar conditions that one must suffer through while preparing for an international event such as a Test match series.

England might have underrated the WI last year when they were out here in the Caribbean, but they won’t be that under-prepared or over-confident as they were then. Be prepared WI, England will be coming hard!