It’s cold and wet, Darren Stevens is scoring centuries and New Road is on flood watch. That’s right, it’s summertime! The first Test of the drought season is almost upon us and, even though it feels like little more than a gentle warm-up jog before the main event, we’re quite excited about it. As much as we’re connoisseurs of the sport who can appreciate slow, low wickets which produce attritional cricket and a battle of spin, deep down we want lively pitches with the ball hooping round corners and the pacemen dominating.
England too will be relieved to be back in more familiar conditions after their tough winter away. Or, at least, all of England apart from Ravi Bopara, who must have done something awful in a past life to have deserved the rotten luck he’s experienced over the past month or so. Out of the Lord’s Test with a thigh tear and who knows if/when he’ll be back competing for a spot in the side. In his stead comes Jonny Bairstow, who serves the dual purpose of batting at six and filling the ginger spot in the side vacant since Paul Collingwood left the England fold in Sydney. Once Bopara was ruled out it was presumably a straight choice between Bairstow and James Taylor, who scored a century for the Lions at Northampton. In time, they will both play in the same side, that Bairstow got the nod this time is a reflection of how he has steadily progressed while Taylor has stagnated somewhat.
Where this leaves Bopara is anyone’s guess. Twice now he has been given a final chance and twice he has picked up an injury in the lead up to the game. It would be a surprise if Bairstow was only given one match to prove himself and if he scores runs in this series it’s difficult to see the Essex man getting that last chance after all.
The rest of the side picks itself, leaving just one fast bowler slot to be filled by either Tim Bresnan, Steve Finn or Graeme Onions. The 51allout brain trust reckons the former will get the nod while Onions’ inclusion is probably just a note to him that he’s in the selectors’ thoughts. Finn, though, is turning into some bowler and before long England are going to have no choice but to pick him. For now he may well have to be content with continuing to hone his drinks-carrying skills.
Brace yourselves for one of the most unlikely sentences you could ever expect to read; West Indies’ fortnight in England so far has been a complete shambles. Three players didn’t arrive on time; two – Narsingh Deonarine and Assad Fudadin – because of the ‘visa problems’ which seem to be sweeping the cricket world, and one – Marlon Samuels – because, well, he couldn’t be arsed. Those that did turn up took part in a tour match at Hove which saw 34 overs of play across three days, perhaps a blessing of sorts as they only had 11 available players at this point and 50 year old Richie Richardson was talking about having to be 12th man.
From that washout they wandered up to Wantage Road – now with the luxury of some actual reserve players – only to rest the captain for no apparent reason before collapsing to 29/4 in the first innings. They lost by 10 wickets. Only Darren Bravo (51 and 57) and Kieran Powell (108 in the second innings) emerged from the game with any real credit and it doesn’t bode well for a competitive series. Everybody loves West Indian cricket, but for an international sports team to prepare as they have for this tour is an absolute disgrace. To start with, a squad of 14 is palpably too small for a three Test series, while no side should lose a couple of players for the first week because of visa issues. Any semblance of pre-planning and foresight could have prevented that from happening. And that’s before we even get onto the pitch; resting your captain for (essentially) the only warm-up game of the tour? Why? Although the irony is that in doing so they probably picked the best West Indies side from the players available.
Anyway, onwards and upwards. Kemar Roach didn’t bowl on the final day in Northampton but will play at Lord’s, and with Sammy’s return that leaves a straight choice between Ravi Rampaul and Fidel Edwards for the final bowling place. We’d pick Edwards because, while he can be erratic, he is far more likely to cause England problems. Denesh Ramdin is back behind the stumps in place of the awful Carlton Baugh, while Kraigg Brathwaite has been mercifully dropped after a nightmare series against Australia which included three ducks in a row. Bravo is the obvious one to watch while Kirk Edwards is also an excellent prospect but will have to get used to conditions, something he has failed to do so far (he’s made just 12 runs across three innings).
This could be a very short section. It’s going to be 3-0 England.
But, we’re a nice bunch so we’ll expand on that a bit. If the weather holds, West Indies are going to have to go some to get anything at all from the series, but they have a bowling attack capable of doing damage in helpful conditions and will have to exploit any lingering frailties in the England top order if they are to be competitive. The home side’s bowlers have done damage all over the world, so it’s difficult to see the tourists holding them off for any length of time in an environment where the ball is going to be doing all sorts. The top three will have to exceed the very low expectations everybody has of them to avoid constantly exposing Shivnarine Chanderpaul to the new ball. If they can do that and the attack fires then you never know.
Well, actually you do. It’s still going to be 3-0.