ODI series preview: England v West Indies

Kevin Pietersen's exit and Chris Gayle's return has brought an interesting parallel to a three-match series that, two weeks ago was billed as a mere afterthought to the Tests, but now couldn't be more intriguingly placed.

Kevin Pietersen's exit and Chris Gayle's return has brought an interesting parallel to a three-match series that, two weeks ago was billed as a mere afterthought to the Tests, but now couldn't be more intriguingly placed.

While they will marginally miss the man that struck back-to-back centuries in February's victory over Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, England's ODI setup is not entirely averse to fielding an XI without their talisman.

His successor at the top of the knock, where the newfound role was serving coach Andy Flower's experiment very well, will revert to the stop-start form of Ian Bell, but England will take a lot from their series wins without Pietersen against India in 2011 and Pakistan in 2010.

There are, of course, two defeats to Bangladesh – one at the World Cup – to take into account across an otherwise successful 15-match, punctuated string of matches without Pietersen in the past two years. By and large, though, Ravi Bopara, Luke Wright, Jonny Bairstow and Eoin Morgan have done well enough around the absence. Now it's Bell's turn to do it above the middle order.

As one major cricket personality opts out another opts back in, and Gayle's new dawn is arguably the more eagerly awaited of the two.

It has been 15 long months – 23 ODIs – since the hard-hitting left-hander left the fold in the wake of his fallout with coach Ottis Gibson and the WICB. The gap has served the individual's pocket well, with lucrative domestic Twenty20 contracts in Australia, India, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, but the team has suffered in the duration.

In the interim, the West Indians have tried as many seven opening combinations in one match short of two dozen. From Danza Hyatt and Kieran Powell to Johnson Charles and Adrian Barath, none have proved even nearly as sound as the alliance brought by Gayle and Simmons.

Cold, then hot, then cold again, the Windies have lacked those tellingly key players in a thwarted success for consistency. Gayle's comeback is sure to bring a turnaround, maybe not in results but surely in attitude, as will the return of limited-overs prowess in Simmons, Kieron Pollard, Marlon Samuels and Dwayne Bravo.

In conclusion, let it be acknowledged, England are thoroughly in Test match mode. None of their current crop were on show in the IPL (Eoin Morgan warmed the Kolkata Knight Riders' bench throughout), yet seven of hte Windies' squad are heading into the one-dayers on the back of six weeks of competitive limited-overs cricket in India. The contrast will surely tell.

<b>Key Men</b><br><I>England:</i> Neither side have blooded youngsters this time around, but <B>Jade Dernbach</B> can go a long way in setting himself apart from the nation's newer school. Successful in Surrey's Clydesdale Bank 40 campaign, the seamer possesses a masterful slower ball and sound knowledge of English conditions.

<i>West Indies:</i> Who else but <B>Chris Gayle?</B> Top of the pops in the run-scoring ranks at the IPL this year, and striking sixes with remarkable regularity, the former captain touched on his recent success in the big win over Middlesex earlier this week. Now is as good an opportunity as any for him to pull off another coup.

<b>Last Five Head-To-Head Results</b><br>2011: World Cup, Group B: England won by 18 runs in Chepauk<br>2009: Third ODI: England won by 58 runs in Birmingham<br>2009: Second ODI: England won by six wickets in Bristol<br>2009: Fifth ODI: England won by 26 runs in St Lucia<br>2009: Fourth ODI: England won by nine wickets in Barbados

<b>Prediction</b><br>Windies' coach Ottis Gibson waxed lyrical at the start of the series about his team's inferiority in Test competition, but potential superiority in ODI cricket. His words were perhaps a touch early, but he isn't too far off. The shorter format is always going to suit the visitors' challenge. The influx of IPL sign-offs – Gayle, Pollard and the older Bravo in particular – will sneak a two-one win.

<a href='http://www.skybet.com/cricket' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>Online betting</b></a> firm Sky Bet have England at 8/13 to win the series and West Indies at 5/4. Visit <a href='http://www.skybet.com/cricket' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><B>Sky Bet</B></a> for the latest <a href='http://www.skybet.com/cricket' target='_blank' class='instorylink'><b>cricket betting</b></a>.

<b>Squads</b><br><I>England:</i> Alastair Cook (captain), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Jade Dernbach, Steven Finn, Craig Kieswetter (wicketkeeper), Eoin Morgan, Samit Patel, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott.

<i>West Indies:</i> Darren Sammy (captain), Dwayne Bravo, Tino Best, Darren Bravo, Johnson Charles, Fidel Edwards, Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine, Kieron Pollard, Denesh Ramdin (wicketkeeper), Ravi Rampaul, Andre Russell, Marlon Samuels, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Smith.

<b>Fixtures</b><br>First ODI: 16 June: Rose Bowl, Southampton<br>Second ODI: 19 June: The Oval, London<br>Third ODI: 22 June, Leeds, Headingley