First Test preview: England v West Indies
In a series that is likely to be one-sided, the West Indian pace attack is the one element that could keep things exciting.
The start of the English Test summer is always a moment to savour, even if it generally begins with a somewhat muted feel. The West Indies, ranked seventh in the world, are not a team that will cause a buzz around England even if they have shown signs of gradual improvement recently. They will almost certainly be seen off, and the first Test at Lord's will give us an indication of by what margin.
On paper the West Indies should be the perfect opposition for England to sink their teeth into as they look to resurrect their defence of the ICC mace. When they took it off India last summer, England were so dominant that there seemed no reason to doubt their ability to reign. Instead they have kept it only through a last-ditch effort in Colombo – their only victory in five Tests over the winter.
A return to home comforts should set them back on track, even if they will face a strong challenge from South Africa in the summer's second series. The England batsmen's problems on Asian pitches often meant that the excellence of their bowlers was overlooked. Back in helpful conditions, the seamers should fill their boots once again, especially against a West Indian side that are prone to major collapses.
The West Indians have focused on building a team for the future, and have gone about it in a sensible manner. Young batsmen who have shown an aptitude for the highest level have been given time to develop, even when form has deserted them. Aside from 37-year-old Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the top six is one for the future. The only catch is that the present has been compromised. There will be some good moments from the inexperienced batsmen, but plenty of horrible ones.
There is a possibility of limiting some of the damage by shifting Chanderpaul up to number three, a solution proposed by many – including a certain Brian Lara. Given that Chanderpaul so often ends up batting with the tail the suggestion makes sense, but coach Ottis Gibson is looking long-term and clearly wants the inexperienced batsmen to learn the hard way.
The bowling attack is rather more established, and will give the English batsmen a few concerns. Fidel Edwards and Kemar Roach are seriously quick but also have control, while Ravi Rampaul possesses a great deal of skill and the knowledge of how to use it. With English conditions suiting the fast men, it seems highly likely that the West Indies will go in with a four-prong seam attack, which is completed by the limited – yet dependable – captain Darren Sammy.
On pacy pitches that attack is probably the most exciting thing about this series, and it will be fascinating to see how they get on. With fresh questions over his place in the side Andrew Strauss could do with some runs, but his task might not be easy. A hundred at Lord's would put those questions to bed for the rest of the summer, but a series of failures over the next month would lead to unwanted pressure in the South Africa Tests.
At the other end of the top six, Jonny Bairstow's Test debut will be the most exciting element for England. With Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara failing to stamp their mark on the number six berth, Bairstow has an excellent opportunity to show that he is the missing link in the batting line-up. If his efforts in the limited-overs side are anything to go by, he is an exciting prospect who will be worth watching.
The only question for the selectors is the identity of the third seamer, and it shouldn't be a major dilemma. Steven Finn was the standout fast bowler in the ODIs against Pakistan, which eventually earned him a place in the Test side for the victory over Sri Lanka. Having developed his game hugely since being dropped in the Ashes series Down Under, he deserves to accompany James Anderson and Stuart Broad in the England attack.
<b>Key Men</b><br><i>England:</i> Recently anointed England's player of the year, <b>James Anderson</b> should relish both the conditions and the opposition at Lord's.
<i>West Indies:</i> Undoubtedly the West Indies' most promising batsman, <b>Darren Bravo</b> will be the man to watch this summer. While Chanderpaul can be relied on for solidity, Bravo is the only man likely to take the game away from England with the bat.
<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results:</b>May 2009: Second Test: England won by an inns and 83 runs at Chester-le-Street<br>May 2009: First Test: England won by 10 wickets at Lord's<br>March 2009: Fifth Test: Match drawn in Trinidad<br>February 2009: Fourth Test: Match drawn in Barbados<br>February 2009: Third Test: Match drawn in St John's
<b>Prediction</b><br>Expect one or two innings of substance from the West Indies, but otherwise it will be a struggle. An <b>England</b> win inside four days is on the cards.
Online betting firm <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>Sky Bet</b></a> have England at 4/9 in the <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>betting</b></a> for the first Test. Visit Sky Bet for the latest <a href='http://www.skybet.com/betting/cricket/c30.html' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket betting</b></a>.
<b>Probable Teams</b><br><i>England:</i> Andrew Strauss (capt), Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn.
<i>West Indies:</i> Kieran Powell, Kirk Edwards, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Narsingh Deonarine, Denesh Ramdin (wk), Darren Sammy (capt), Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Fidel Edwards.
<b>Dates:</b> 17-21 May<br><b>Morning session:</b> 11:00 – 13:00 (10:00 – 12:00 GMT)<br><b>Afternoon session:</b> 13:40- 15:40 (12:40 – 14:40 GMT)<br><b>Evening session:</b> 16:00 – 18:00 (15:00 – 17:00 GMT)<br><b>On-field umpires:</b> Aleem Dar and Marais Erasmus<br><B>Third umpire:</B> Asad Rauf<BR><b>Match referee:</b> Roshan Mahanama
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