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WI power, spin to test England

Friday, February 28, 2014
England’s Ravi Bopara and West Indies Lendl Simmons share a discussion prior to a training session in Antigua yesterday. PHOTO COURTESY WINDIESCRICKET.COM

It is possible to see value in today’s opening ODI contest between the West Indies and England at the Sir Viv Richards ground, Antigua.


If only because there is a World Cup in a year’s time and England’s recent travails need little repeating. This brief tour is a chance for bonding and revival ahead of Bangladesh, while West Indies can look to build on the relative success of a shared series in New Zealand when the odds were stacked against them.

Both teams have said they will approach the matches as one-day internationals, rather than elongated practice for the Twenty20s—a three-match T20 series follows in Barbados —but that is perhaps slightly truer of West Indies than England. The hosts can have the flexibility of picking their bespoke squads, which includes putting the captaincy in Dwayne Bravo’s hands rather than Darren Sammy’s, but England have engineered their squad with the focus on the T20s to follow.


For very different reasons, two of the game’s most destructive batsmen will be missing. Chris Gayle’s absence is injuryrelated— and West Indies will have everything crossed he is fit for their World T20 defence—while England are beginning life permanently without Kevin Pietersen.


The last time England were in the Caribbean, Pietersen was the Player of the Tournament at the World Twenty20; now they will be putting their faith in the likes of Eoin Morgan, Joe Root and Jos Buttler to sparkle in the middle order. Even without Gayle, West Indies are not short on power in their top order with the likes of Dwayne Smith, Marlon Samuels, Dwayne Bravo and the improving pair of Kieran Powell and Kirk Edwards.


One must not discount the value of Sunil Narine to the West Indies. He did not have a huge impact in the one-day series in New Zealand —taking three wickets from four matches— and was left out against Ireland, but there are plenty of reasons why England should focus on him. Their record against unorthodox spin (and often spin of any sort) in limited- overs cricket is far from impressive.


This is a rare chance for Stuart Broad to take charge of England for more than a few days. But not only will his captaincy skills be key, he is now the attack-leader in the limitedovers formats. England do not have many bowlers who can change a game in a spell: Broad is one of them. How he uses himself around the various fielding restrictions will be interesting to watch.


With no Gayle, Smith will likely open the batting as he did against Ireland where he scored a brisk half-century. West Indies could well be tempted to take the pace off the ball against the England line-up.


If England’s warm-up match is anything to go by—and you would think it would be—the only uncapped player they are set to blood is Alex Hales. He opened alongside Luke Wright in against the Vice Chancellor’s XI; the other candidates to open would have been Michael Lumb and Moeen Ali. However, Eoin Morgan missed training with a knee problem and if he is ruled out, Moeen could earn a debut. The ground here in Antigua may well see the ball going through at knee height, rather than chest height.


The last time England played a match here, the contest lasted 10 deliveries before the 2009 Test was abandoned due to a dangerous outfield.


England'’s only previous ODIs at this ground came during the 2007 World Cup when they lost both matches Since January 2013, West Indies have hit 145 sixes in 28 matches (an average of 5.18 per game) while England have hit 89 in 26 matches (an average of 3.42 per game) but both teams have won the same number of matches (11) in that period.


West Indies captain Bravo said he will not be taking the game as preparation for the Twenty20 World Cup. “These are three one-day internationals —and we have the 50-over World Cup round the corner.” His opposite Broad reminded that the warm-up match was the first 50-over match in which he captained England. “It was good to get one in before the internationals.”


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