English cricket would love a quick fix right now but Test matches – and series – are more of a
planning permission and scaffolding sort of job. West Indies are perhaps more accepting of the need to have dust sheets all over the place as they renovate the crumbling mansion of their game, though over the years they have fallen victim to cowboy contractors with an embarrassing regularity.
Both teams could step back and look at their handiwork in the Antigua draw and afford themselves a moment’s satisfaction. England’s foundations, put into place against India last summer, still look fairly sturdy, even if some of the more fiddly work – lintels, underfloor heating, taking 20 wickets on a flat pitch – needs attending to. West Indies, forever surviving in the most rickety of shacks, have got hold of a solid beam or two, not least in the individual performance of Jason Holder and a collective commitment to the cause.
There is no time to be standing around drinking tea and flicking through the newspaper, however. The second Test presents another big undertaking and neither Peter Moores nor Phil Simmons is in the mood for letting a deadline slip. The suggestion, by incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves, that West Indies are a “mediocre” operation has pricked professional pride and England require victories to prove they are the better craftsmen, as billed.
England will be bolstered by the arrival of a skilled artisan, with Moeen Ali expected
to go straight into the side. His more attacking offspin might help them apply the finish in St George’s, where England will also be hoping for increased output from the openers and perhaps some more incisive work with the new ball.
Simmons will doubtless have his eye on a few areas for home improvement – and Sulieman Benn has already paid for failing to meet required standards – if West Indies are to further enhance reputations at the expense of the tourists. West Indies have not beaten one of the top-eight sides at home since 2012 but need only look to their 2009 win over England for how an inspirational session can decide a series. Even then, the long-term issue of subsidence would remain.
In the spotlight
Jonathan Trott has frequently had to shield his eyes from the glare since he departed England’s 2013-14 Ashes tour. He has been forced to contemplate life without international cricket and, by all accounts, is relaxed about what the future holds. His 50th Test appearance was an achievement in itself but the difficulties he faces as opener were swiftly exposed; a successful
counter to Jerome Taylor’s new-ball swing is required to extend his comeback.
Having spent the World Cup fronting up for West Indies’ inadequacies, it was clear Jason Holder has many virtuous character traits. His effort in helping to save the first Test, via a maiden hundred in any format, suggested we will have plenty of time to admire his on-field abilities as well. Batting may become his stronger suit but Holder has the dimensions of a formidable bowler and he could do with a few more wickets as West Indies’ third seamer.
With Benn dropped from the squad, the stage is set for Devendra Bishoo to make his Test return after a three-year hiatus. Shannon Gabriel has also been recalled and alongside Carlos Brathwaite adds to West Indies’ options but they are set to stick with the same three-man pace attack.
James Tredwell’s arm injury looks like limiting him to another one-off Test appearance (five years after his first) as Moeen waits in the wings. Wherever he bats, it will strengthen the line-up. England’s preferred template would be to stick with four seamers but Adil Rashid remains with the squad if the pitch invites a gamble. Despite the quick turnaround, Liam Plunkett and Mark Wood are expected to stay on the sidelines.
Pitch and conditions
The National Cricket Stadium has only hosted two Tests – the most recent in 2009, when a West Indies side weakened by contractual disputes lost to Bangladesh. There is some dampness in the pitch, which may mean a bit of life early on, while Denesh Ramdin has suggested it will spin more than Antigua. The most recent first-class match, in December, saw Leeward Islands skittled after choosing to bat and Windward Islands, led by a Devon Smith hundred, win comfortably, with offspinner Liam Sebastien taking 10 for 89.
Stats and trivia
England have not won a Test in the Caribbean since 2004, drawing six of their last seven. Their last away win was in Kolkata 2012
· Devon Smith will become the first Grenadian to play a Test at St George’s
· West Indies have not won a Test at the ground – in 2002 they drew with New Zealand – but have won nine out of 16 ODIs there
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