Do the Windies have new hope?
On the eve of the first Test in England’s latest tour of the Caribbean, what hope do the West Indies have of upsetting the odds?
The hosts are currently a lowly eighth in the ICC test rankings, only ahead of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, and coming off dreadful tours to Bangladesh and India, where they didn’t win a single Test match.
Logically, it is extremely difficult to see how this group of players could get the better of the third-best Test cricket nation in the world. And yet…
Windies Test squad: Jason Holder (capt), Kraigg Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Shamarh Brooks, John Campbell, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Shannon Gabriel, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach, Jomel Warrican, Oshane Thomas (cover for Joseph)
Despite poor form on their travels, the Windies have a much better record playing on home soil, and didn’t lose a series in Caribbean conditions last year.
In their most recent Test series against England last summer, they lost 2-1, but their victory included a great performance on the last day of the second match, when they chased over 300 runs to triumph at Headingley.
Despite England being big favourites to win this latest series, they do not have a great record in the Caribbean.
England have won three of the last five Test series against the Windies, the last coming in 2017. However, they hadn’t won in the Caribbean since 2004 prior to that, with the last two series’ against the hosts ending in a draw and a defeat.
However, if you are looking at the hosts’ squad, it is very difficult to see where the danger for England lies, with all of the Windies’ world stars missing.
In with the new
The Windies have invested their hopes in youth for this series, with the average age of the squad just 26. The oldest player is Shannon Gabriel, 30, and four players feature from the team who won the Under-19s World Cup in 2016.
One of the biggest issues the West Indies have had in the past year is their top order’s lack of scoring, which has resulted in the dropping of Devon Smith and Kieron Powell.
Three players could possibly be making their debut sometime during this series. Both John Campbell and Shamarh Brooks will be relishing the opportunity to show they deserve places in the team and could potentially resolve its lack of runs at the top of the order.
However, with them both averaging under 35 and with only nine first-class 100s between them, they may not make a big difference to the Windies batting.
The hosts’ biggest threat to England is with the ball, because the Windies have finally found a combination that works well.
If any is to be their salvation, it is likely to be Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and skipper Jason Holder.
Whilst the trio are far from the kind of fearsome Windies bowling attack that dominated Test cricket during the 70s, 80s and into 90s, their figures in 2018 will get any batsman’s respect and attention.
Roach and Gabriel both had an average of under 13 in the Caribbean last year, with Gabriel taking 33 wickets in seven matches, becoming one of three West Indians to take 13 wickets in a match, when he single-handedly bowled out Sri Lanka.
Gabriel will be by far the fastest bowler on show during the series, having the fifth fastest average speed in the world.
Holder averaged 15 at home last year, and the Windies captain’s bowling has improved considerably in recent times. In the last two Test series, he picked up three five-wicket hauls and took 28 in total, which led to him being named in the ICC Test Team of the Year.
The Windies seam bowling, by anyone’s standards, is extremely successful and can compete with any Test nation worldwide.
Another player who maybe looking to make his debut and add to an already-established attack, is one of the most exciting prospects in world cricket
Oshane Thomas is a right-hand fast bowler who is in the squad as cover for Alzarri Joseph. The Jamaican has become the youngest West Indian to be signed by an IPL franchise, joining the Rajastan Royals’ 2019 squad.
The hot prospect’s average bowling speeds were the fastest by any paceman worldwide in 2018; his 6 ft 3in muscular frame allows him to bowl in the mid-90s comfortably.
At the age of 21, he made his international debut against India in a T20 contest, and has become a fan favorite due to his strong performances in the Caribbean Premier League.
Watching this young talent fire them down makes you extremely happy that you’re not at the other end facing his deliveries, and conjures up memories of the likes of Michael holding and Andy Roberts.
Windies batting woes
Despite the Windies confidence with the ball, you can’t win a Test match without making runs, especially not against the best bowler in the world, James Anderson.
Despite the great skill and class displayed by Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite in the last series against England in 2016, they both have struggled to make runs in the longest form of the game.
Hope has failed to score a test hundred since the two he scored at Headingley, and Brathwaite has been in terrible form, averaging six runs in his last eight innings and only making over 10 runs twice.
But despite their lack of runs, the West Indies have regained fresh hope in the return of Darren Bravo.
Bravo is back
The selection of the Trinidadian to face England could be key for the hosts. He still has the highest batting figures in Test cricket of any current West Indian batsman, averaging 40.
Bravo, 29, has five scores over 150 and two double hundreds in his eight centuries. He also top scored the last time he came up against England, making 82 to level the series 1-1 in 2015.
Despite his clear superiority over every other Windies batsmen, he hasn’t played a Test since 2016 due to a contractual dispute. The left-hander’s batting will add a great deal of strength to the Windies line-up and therefore give balance to their team.
England are clear favourites in this upcoming series, however they were clearer favourites last time in the Caribbean in 2017 and just edged a series win.
Maybe the Caribbean conditions and a youthful, rejuvenated West Indian team will provide a tougher task this time around.
Windies likely XI: Kraigg Brathwaite, John Campbell, Darren Bravo, Shai hope, Shimron Hetmyer, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich, Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel.