Now that the trifling matter of the Test series is out of the way, it’s time to concentrate on pyjama cricket for a while. And, as you may have been made aware by a great deal of ranting from all corners of the country, there’s quite a lot of it to come. The first act in this enthralling drama sees West Indies, bolstered by the return of a few players who can now be arsed to play for them, take on England, weakened by the absence of a player who cannot now be arsed to play for them.
Andy Flower and co have responded to the opportunity handed to them in light of Kevin Pietersen’s retirement to blood some exciting new youngsters by handing Ian Bell the job of opening the innings once again. His return is the only change to the squad which walloped Pakistan in the UAE, though it is somewhat akin to taking a tourist group desperate to see the Grand Canyon around a small watering hole in the middle of the Sahara Desert instead.
Apart from that the side looks reasonably solid; the bowling attack will always be threatening in home conditions and there are runs in the batting line-up too. The problem is that a top three of Bell, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott isn’t so much lacking in dynamism as fatally allergic to it, and the argument that England need more explosive hitters is almost certain to rear its dull, monotonous head once again at some stage.
With Pietersen gone his burden falls onto the shoulders of one Eoin Morgan, who has spent most of the summer so far watching other people play cricket at the IPL. He finally rediscovered some form in the past week or so, blitzing a 49 ball hundred against Lancashire at Lord’s, but unfortunately is still desperately trying to give himself terrible knee problems by doing squats before every delivery for no reason.
Such is the number of players who manage to lower themselves to actually turning up and playing for their country if it only takes a few hours, the West Indies have been made favourites for this series in some quarters. It’s not difficult to see why; even taking into account the giant albatross around their neck that is Kieron Pollard, they look to have a very strong one day side. Were it not for Kemar Roach completely misunderstanding the instruction to ‘go out there and play like Allan Donald’ in the tied game in St Vincent, Australia would have been beaten at home a couple of months ago, while England contrive to not be very good at this form of the game most of the time.
West Indies are still without Roach but add Johnson Charles, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith and Andre Russell. as well as Pollard and some bloke called Gayle, to those who have been here for the Test matches. They got into the swing of things by absolutely hosing Middlesex in a warm-up game, a performance which demonstrated the destructive power of their batting – they hit nine sixes in a total of 335 – as well as how much better suited their bowling is to this format.
The key will probably still be the top order. If it clicks they can chase anything and win from almost any position but they really cannot afford to find themselves 30/3 too many times, as they were on a couple of occasions against Australia. They will badly miss Roach but Sunil Narine will be tougher to deal with than at Edgbaston and he will be vital. Generally, though, bowling is just something to get out of the way so the batsmen can tee off.
England really should back themselves in home conditions, but this could go either way. If you fancy putting your money on something (and haven’t already invested it in an ill-advised wager that Ian Bell will score a century) bear in mind it’s very difficult to just walk back into international cricket and succeed. It is even more difficult when you’ve been playing nothing but T20 for over a year and will come up against a good attack in helpful conditions. We’re naming no names.