The Englishmen are all set to take on the Caribbean brigade in the England vs West Indies three-match Test series, starting July 8 at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. A rivalry, which began in 1928, will mark the return of international cricket after a hiatus of four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. England’s red-ball captain Joe Root is going to miss out on the first Test as he and his wife are expecting their second child. All-rounder Ben Stokes has been handed over the captaincy in Root’s absence and will look to lead the side from the front.
The away team has been in England since June 9 to ensure all safety protocols are followed and have been training at Manchester all this while. In the buildup to the Test series, the West Indies have played a couple of practice matches, whereas the Three Lions have managed to play just one. As they gear up to clash against each other, we take a look at three main battles that are expected to decide the outcome of the Test series.
BEN STOKES vs JASON HOLDER
England’s stand-in captain Ben Stokes will look to take his counterpart Jason Holder head-on in this contest of two exceptional all-rounders. Stokes had a wonderful summer of 2019 and continued his brilliant form into 2020, where he helped England forge a 3-1 comeback in the away series against South Africa. The last time when an England vs West Indies series happened in 2017, Stokes had a productive series with both bat and ball, scoring 228 runs and following that up with nine wickets.
The 2019 Test series against England in the Caribbean saw Jason Holder coming off age and emerging as one of the best all-rounders in red-ball cricket. His 202* in the Barbados Test set the tone for the remainder of the campaign and the West Indies surprisingly went on to win the series 2-1. Holder, however, has had a wretched run in the two practice matches with scores of 5, 2 and 0. He was also seen nursing a minor ankle injury and didn’t bowl a lot in those matches. Nonetheless, knowing his class, it will be interesting to see how this battle pans out.
BATTLE OF THE PACE MASTERS
James Anderson bowling banana deliveries with the new ball is the most appropriate description of a Test series in England. Anderson is back with vigour and is 16 scalps short of reaching the 600-wicket mark, a feat which has not been achieved by any fast bowler in Test cricket history. In the England vs West Indies Test series held in 2017, Anderson tormented the visitors, picking up 19 wickets and winning the ‘Man of the Series’ award. If he remains injury-free, then the Windies top-order is in for some testing times.
After a remarkable start to his career with the Three Lions, Jofra Archer started to fade away in England’s tour of New Zealand and South Africa due to injuries. Now, that the fiery pace bowler is back to his normal fitness standards, he will look to put all the criticism aside and get the bragging rights over the players with whom he grew up in the Caribbean Islands.
The West Indies pace quartet is reminiscent of the firepower they had in the 1980s. Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph and Jason Holder all possess different abilities and will definitely test the unsettled top order of the host nation. The fierce-foursome have picked 177 wickets in 15 matches at an average of 21.78 and are only second to the Indian pace attack in terms of total wickets. Alzarri Joseph has been hailed as the one to look out for by the West Indies coach Phil Simmons, so England should be keeping a steady eye on the youngster.
BATTLE FOR TOP-ORDER DOMINANCE
Both team’s top order seems to be unsettled before the start of the series. In the last two years, England’s top order have averaged 35.72, whereas their Windies counterpart has struggled to find big scores, averaging 20.77. Added to this is the fact that batting in England against the new ball is never easy. In the past two years, the top six batsmen have averaged under 30, while the West Indies top five batsmen have the worst average amongst all Test-playing nations since January 2018.
When cricket does return, it’s for sure that the team which bats well and negates the strong bowling line-up of the opposing team will come out on top and win this England vs West Indies Test series.
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