An underdog tag and proving their own fans wrong are two reasons Stuart Law believes West Indies could spring a surprise on England in the upcoming Test series.
The 50-year-old coached the West Indies from January 2017 before leaving at start of 2019 to take on a head coach role with Middlesex. In September, he announced his intention to move on to county cricket, but oversaw their next two series which both ended as 2-0 defeats away to India and Bangladesh. By contrast, England arrive as the number three ranked team in the world, having seen off India 4-1 at home and beating Sri Lanka 3-0 away. Nevertheless, Law reckons the West Indies – eighth in the ICC rankings – should not be taken lightly.
“Don’t underestimate the home team,” Law warned. “There’s a core group of senior players who have been there for a while now and proved they can do it. A lot of that group played in that Test match at Headingley, so if England aren’t on their game, West Indies have got the team to make an upset.
“The best thing about this series is England are going in as red-hot favourites, going in as an underdog you’ve got nothing to lose. The Caribbean crowd will tell the Caribbean team they are not supposed to win. They (the West Indies team) like proving people wrong as well. It should be reasonably comfortable for England on paper but out on the ground, there are a few guys there with a point to prove and opportunities to cement a place for a long time in the West Indies set-up, so I wouldn’t discount them.”
Law was in charge the last time the two sides met in the summer of 2017. While the hosts triumphed across three matches, West Indies were able to register a first Test win in England for 17 years when they chased down 322 with five wickets to spare in the second Test.
West Indies were unable to build on that high in the short-term, losing by nine wickets at Lord’s to hand England the series. But Law knows just how much confidence the victory breathed into not just the younger long-form players like Shai Hope, who became the first player to score centuries in both innings of a first class match at Headingley, but also supporters who had lost faith in a competitive West Indies at Test level.
“I think the euphoria of a first Test win in England for 17 years was something I think that’s still celebrated in the Caribbean,” said Law. “They don’t need much to have a party out there. But some of the kids who stuck their hand up in that match, they really gained a lot.
“Shai Hope, Kraigg Brathwaite, Jason Holder and Shannon Gabriel – those guys bowled their hearts out. Shannon Gabriel bowled fast every time he bowled a ball. The two batters, they just had a dream Test match. They can do it, that’s the thing. It comes down to self-belief. If they’ve got self-belief they can achieve anything they want those guys.”
The lure of a four-year deal was one of the deciding factors that tempted Law to north London, along with the prospect of spending more time with his family. Nevertheless, he left with a heavy heart and wary the pillars for success were being put in place, thanks in part to the work of chief executive Jonny Graves, formerly of England’s Players Cricket Association, and director of cricket Jimmy Adams. The future of West Indies cricket, in his eyes, is promising not least because of the prospect of better infrastructure.
“There have been massive improvements. I know through Johnny Grave, the CEO, and Jimmy Adams, the director of cricket they’ve made massive strides forward to make sure the professionalism has been raised.
“Part of my job was to create a different culture. It is in a healthy state in the international scene, the number one team, and the A team. Domestic cricket still needs a lot of work but it’s very difficult to run on a shoestring budget and to produce superstars out of just playing cricket. There are no practice facilities or hardly any practice facilities. There’s no Academy set-up, so that would be the next port of call. It is in the pipeline, it’s just a matter of waiting for the funding to come through and do it. They are trying, that’s for sure. They are definitely trying to improve the game and the status of West Indies cricket.”