Stuart Broad has the onus of galvanizing a depleted England squad © Getty Images
North Sound: Feb 27, 2014
Two teams in dire need of rehabilitation ahead of the next global cricketing contest start what should be an intriguing fortnight of competition when the West Indies host England in Antigua.
While the next World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is still just under a year away, the Caribbean side’s defence of the World T20 crown begins in three weeks’ time in Bangladesh.
So it will be no surprise if there is even greater interest and purpose attached to the three T20 (T20I) fixtures between Dwayne Bravo‘s men and Stuart Broad’s side in Barbados the week following the final One-Day International (ODI).
However, in the almost immediate aftermath of horrendous foreign campaigns, victories for either side in any format and against any opposition will be welcome.
England’s annihilation in Australia over all three established formats of the game grabbed most international attention, but the West Indies also endured humiliating Test series defeats in India and New Zealand, despite performing more creditably in the ODIs.
Both squads are without key performers going into the opening exchanges at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, named in honour of the tiny nation’s greatest cricketer.
On England’s last visit to the Caribbean in 2009, the scheduled second Test in the same North Sound venue lasted all of nine deliveries before it was abandoned due to a poorly-prepared outfield covered with more sand than any of the island’s idyllic beaches.
Then, Kevin Pietersen had just been replaced as captain by Andrew Strauss.
Now, he is out of the picture altogether, the general perception being that for all his abundant batting talent, he is too much of a maverick to be accommodated at a time when all hands are needed on deck and working together for the good of the team.
West Indies have no intention of parting ways with their own mercurial batsmen as yet.
Still, Chris Gayle will not be in the line-up for the three ODI’s due to a back injury sustained in the first of two T20′s against Ireland the previous week in his native Jamaica.
It is hoped he will be fit for the T20s against the English, but the same cannot be said for power-hitting all-rounder Kieron Pollard who misses this series and the World T20 as he continues his recuperation from knee surgery.
In sharing the honours with the Irish in two scrappy, low-scoring matches and then taking the lone one-dayer by four wickets at Sabina Park, the home side presented little in the way of significant improvement.
And that suggests that England, for all their travails in Australia where they lost 12 of 13 international matches, may actually start the series as marginal favourites.
In their only warm-up fixture of the brief tour, England held off the challenge of the University of the West Indies Vice-Chancellor’s XI on Tuesday thanks in the main to an anchoring unbeaten hundred by Joe Root and a supporting half-century by Ben Stokes.
Off-spinner James Tredwell’s three wickets then scuppered the hosts’ encouraging start, although the comparative ease with which Kyle Corbin counter-punched his way to 105 hinted at the visiting bowlers facing even tougher challenges over the three ODI’s on a surface noted as a batsman’s paradise.
Dwayne Bravo (c), Dwayne Smith, Lendl Simmons, Darren Bravo, Marlon Samuels, Denesh Ramdin, Darren Sammy, Nikita Miller, Sunil Narine, Jason Holder, Ravi Rampaul.
Stuart Broad (c), Luke Wright, Alex Hales, Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler, Ravi Bopara, Tim Bresnan, Chris Jordan, James Tredwell.