England v West Indies: Strauss’s side must seize summer impetus
England looking to make a positive start to the summer against a tricky West Indies outfit ahead of sterner tests to come
May has now long marked the start of the international cricket season, but this year’s opening Test between England and the West Indies at Lord’s next week seems to have caught us particularly by surprise.
Perhaps due to the wet weather, which allowed only 34 overs in the tourists’ warm-up clash with Sussex, this year the pre-Test hype seems at an all-time low.
It has become cliched in recent years to describe the West Indies as a side in decline – in fact the current crop are arguably the first in recent years to arrest the seemingly irrepressible slide of the once great Caribbean alliance.
It is a gentle plateauing motion, led by the irrepressibly enthusiastic Darren Sammy, but a 2-2 ODI series draw against Australia recently, and a self-respecting disciplined approach toTest cricket has restored something of a smile to faces in Georgetown, St John’s and Port of Spain.
But the side’s current Test ranking of joint seventh (out of nine) is a fair reflection on their international status.
England had a winter or cruel exposure to spin bowling in the UAE and, to a lesser extent Zimbabwe, but their efforts in early season Test series’ are largely exemplary.
Whereas the hosts would be quaking at the prospect of an attack such as Australia or South Africa’s at this stage of the summer, the heritage status of those series always ensures they’re kept for the business end of the season.
Instead, England are served up an often underprepared and, frankly, freezing opposition in seam friendly conditions quite unlike those anywhere other than perhaps New Zealand. No surprise then that since the advent of regular two-tour summers in 2000, England have never lost the spring series and have been held to a draw only twice.
James Anderson and co will be licking their lips at the prospect of some cheap Test wickets ahead of the key-note series with rivals South Africa in August.
They will not, though, be looking forward to the contest with the man who recently, and with a typical lack of pazzaz, reclaimed top spot in the ICC’s Test batting rankings after an absence of three years, Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
The 37-year-old left-hander is perhaps the most infuriating cricketer to bowl at in the world game, with his crabby, ackward stance and unflustered temperament. His success will be crucial to the WIndies’ efforts.
There are also signs of a decent middle order emerging around him, with the talented Darren Bravo – cousin of Brian Lara and at 23 already the owner of 1,339 Test runs at an average a shade under 50 – in particular one to look out for.
But with pre-Test warm-ups almost a token of a bygone age, and county cricket largely closed to Caribbean youngsters, the likes of Bravo and opener Adrian Barath will have to learn their trade ‘on-the-job.’ England in May is a tough ask for a batting line-up as green as the generous spread or grass on the pitches.
England’s batsmen, and the under pressure Andrew Strauss in particular, will also be apprehensive, particularly against the pacy Keemar Roach – who snared 19 Australian victims at just 19.73 in their recent clash.
He, and others in this current crop, will ensure the Windies have their moments, but for England the real test lies later this summer.