On the face of it, a Test series between England, ranked third in the world, and West Indies, ranked ninth, runs the risk of being horribly one-sided yet there is hope that the three-match series will be closer than the rankings suggest. With England still having a number of issues to resolve, notably with their batting line-up, and the tourists a talented and improving, if still raw around the edges, team, this is unlikely to be the walk in the park that many are expecting for the home side.
The first Test of the series being a day-night match levels the playing field somewhat, too. West Indies have experienced a day-night Test already, against Pakistan in Dubai, and had a good workout against Derbyshire last week in a three-day day-night game. In contrast, England have had just one training session under lights this week in Birmingham and none of their players have had much exposure to the pink ball in their careers. Stuart Broad admitted earlier this week that it will be “leap in to the unknown” for England.
Given the right conditions and if the pink ball makes batting troublesome during the twilight period, the useful West Indian pace attack could cause problems for England’s batting line-up. Surrey’s Mark Stoneman will become the 12th opener to be tried since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012 and Tom Westley and Dawid Malan, if selected, have plenty to prove too. In Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach, captain Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph, West Indies’ attack has bowlers who have pace, who can keep things tight and who can swing the ball. They should not be underestimated.
The West Indian batting line-up looked in decent touch against Derbyshire last week although the county’s attack was by no means strong. There were hundreds for Kyle Hope, Shai Hope and Roston Chase, as well as 92 for Kieran Powell but the batting remains the tourists’ weaker suit. Much will depend on vice-captain Kraigg Braithwaite being able to blunt James Anderson and Broad and the West Indies middle order, including Chase, who has scored three hundreds in his ten Tests so far, and the talented Jermaine Blackwood, being able to score consistently. There is talent aplenty but questions remain about their Test match discipline.
Given the inexperience of West Indies’ batsmen, England’s in-form bowlers will fancy their chances of making inroads as they were able to against South Africa. Anderson was quite magnificent against the Proteas and Broad looked his hostile best in the final Test at Old Trafford. Moeen Ali’s 25 wickets in that series confirmed his recent improvement with the ball and with Chris Woakes back fit and Toby Roland-Jones looking the part against South Africa, England have all bases covered.
But despite the improving nature of this West Indian team, they have not won a Test series since 2014 and their last away series victory was in 2012. It would be a considerable upset were they to beat England over the next month but the men from the Caribbean should not be underestimated either. This series should prove a useful test for England ahead of the winter’s Ashes.
When: Thursday, August 17, 2017, 2 PM.
Where: Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Birmingham
What to expect: The Edgbaston groundsman has not been given any instructions to leave extra grass on the surface to help keep the pink ball shiny, so it is likely to be a good, true surface for batting with some pace and bounce for the bowlers. As the game wears on, it may spin. The weather forecast is mixed with rain forecast on Friday and Sunday but decent weather on the other days.
Team News:EnglandThe hosts have opted to hand Stoneman his maiden Test cap and he will slot in to replace Keaton Jennings, who has been in wretched form in recent times, having scored just 127 runs in the recently-concluded four-match Test series against South Africa. Also, England resisted the temptation to play Chris Woakes, who is back fit after a side strain and there is no spot for legspinner Mason Crane as yet.
West IndiesWest Indies must decide whether to play legspinner Devendra Bishoo or go in with a four-man seam attack as they did against Derbyshire. Given the likely good nature of the surface, Bishoo, who averages 37 in Tests, may get the nod which would mean 20 year-old quick Alzarri missing out. Shannon Gabriel, much improved over the last year, will lead the attack with Roach who would be playing his first Test since January 2016.