Was Fawad Alam ready for his return to Test cricket this week in England? It seems not.
International cricket is back, and we have a ripper of a series coming up from July 8 as England host the West Indies.
The two sides will encounter each other in three Tests – the first one in Southampton before the next two Tests are played in Manchester.
West Indies have a 15-man squad with ten reserve players on tour. Although England haven’t named an official squad, I’m assuming they’ll be trimming down their 30-man squad.
With the two extended squads in mind, here are my key battles that will decide the Wisden Trophy.
New ball versus top order
This goes for both sides. England have the swing maestro in James Anderson, the accuracy of Stuart Broad and the X-factor in Jofra Archer. Add the handy bowling all-rounders in Sam Curran and Chris Woakes and the Poms have a handy seam attack on their shores.
If the West Indies’ top order in Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shai Hope and Shamarh Brooks can dig in and negate the English new-ball attack, run-scoring will become a lot easier.
The West Indies have Jason Holder, Raymon Reifer, Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and Alzarri Joseph in their pace stocks.
Bar Reifer, the rest swing the ball at a rapid speed, especially Gabriel and Joseph. As we saw in the last series between the two sides in early 2019, the West Indies’ bowlers knocked over the English batsmen with pace.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they continued this tactic in this series. With no Joe Root for the first Test, the responsibility on Rory Burns and Dom Sibley has gone up a notch. If they can handle the pressure and negate the Windies’ quicks, England will be able to put runs on the board.
Jason Holder versus Ben Stokes
In the battle of the seam-bowling all-rounders, Windies skipper Jason Holder takes on England vice-captain (captain for the first Test) Ben Stokes.
Holder’s accuracy with the ball is phenomenal and he can change the course of a game with his lower-order batting. Stokes has improved as a batsman, but it’s either zero or a hundred for him. His bowling remains a surprise weapon, as he’s developed a mean bouncer to shake batsmen lately. But can he perform as captain?
Andrew Flintoff declined as a player when captaining England so there may be a seed of doubt among English fans when Stokes leads this English side. Whoever outperforms the other will most likely lead their country to a series victory.
The battle of spin
Southampton and Manchester have some of the drier surfaces on offer in England. Spinners come into play on these surfaces more often, and spin will play a significant role in this series.
Moeen Ali has an impeccable record at Southampton, taking 17 wickets in two Tests with a bowling average of 15.47. Dom Bess and Jack Leach have played most of their first-class career at Taunton, which is a spinner’s paradise, so whoever plays will enjoy bowling in Southampton and Manchester.
All-rounder Roston Chase plays spin very well and took 8-60 against England in the last series the two sides met with his tidy off breaks. Rahkeem Cornwall has over 300 first-class wickets in 62 matches and has had a bright start to his Test career. If he can land his off spinners in the spot from ball one, England will have a tough time negotiating Cornwall. To counter the pace in the West Indies’ stocks, the curators may produce slower wickets, so the spin battle could become even more critical.
The loss of Joe Root for the first Test is too big of a gap for England’s batting to go unnoticed. With a quality batsman in the English skipper gone for the first Test, the responsibility amps up on the English top three and whoever takes Root’s spot.
For the West Indies, Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope have to step up with the bat like the last time they played in England so the West Indies can have a shot at putting runs on the board. With the West Indies and England having quality pace attacks, we could see a few low-scoring thrillers.
The first Test will dictate the series like the 2019 Wisden Trophy. With the West Indies having a stable Test team under Jason Holder compared to an untested England captain in Ben Stokes, the West Indies start as slight favourites.
It’s too close to choose a genuine favourite for this series, but I’m going with the Windies. If the West Indies get a positive result in the first Test, it’ll be difficult for England to bounce back in time. It’s hard to predict the series’ scoreline but I’ll go West Indies 2-1.
Here are my predicted XIs for the first Test.
England: Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, James Bracey, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes (captain), Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wicketkeeper), Chris Woakes, Dom Bess, James Anderson, Stuart Broad.
West Indies: Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Shai Hope, Shamarh Brooks, Roston Chase, Jermaine Blackwood, Shane Dowrich (wicketkeeper), Jason Holder (captain), Rahkeem Cornwall, Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel.