England aim for 3-0 drubbing
Weather permitting, England will expect a whitewash
Both in batting and bowling, the West Indies will be as outgunned as the hapless English teams facing the might of the West Indies in the late 1970s and 1980s. The greatest obstacle to a 3-0 England drubbing could be the fickle spring weather.
England’s dismal winter was not the fault of their seamers. Stuart Broad and James Anderson were outstanding as England went down 3-0 to Pakistan, then clung on to draw 1-1 with Sri Lanka. But how much more effective they will be away from the punishing heat and hard-baked surfaces of the sub-continent. The sight of grey English days at Lord’s will raise their spirits as much as it dulls the senses of West Indies’ quicks.
The third member of the England seam attack remains unknown. There are three options. It could be Durham’s Graham Onions, who has bounced back from his back injury and is the best wicket-to-wicket bowler in the land. He is perfect for Lord’s.
The second contender is Middlesex’s Steven Finn, who has emerged as a genuinely fast bowler after the same reconditioning work that beefed up Stuart Broad a couple of seasons ago. For a while, Broad used his expanded musculature to propel the ball at more than 90mph, but it reduced his effectiveness.
Finn, on the other hand, does not have to strive for pace. It comes naturally to him. He looks every inch an international bowler and would walk into any other side, apart from South Africa’s.
However, by rights the third bowling slot deserves to go to Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan. Bresnan has more prosaic gifts than Finn and Onions, but he is a fine allrounder and a steadfast character. It is well-known that his 11 Tests for England have brought 11 victories. But that is not a mere statistic. He has played a role in several of those wins and has impressive averages with both bat and ball (40 and 23 respectively). Although England may not need his lower-order batting against West Indies, they are likely to crave his steady head in a crisis against South Africa.
The England seamers will have a vulnerable West Indies top order at their mercy. Adrian Barath and Kirk Edwards made low scores in the single innings possible during the rain-affected game at Hove, then mustered 26 runs between them in four knocks against the Lions.
They do not inspire confidence and there is a strong case – as Brian Lara has argued – for bringing Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the world’s number one batsman, up from five to three, to bolster the top order. West Indies also possess an exciting talent in the left-handed Darren Bravo, Lara’s cousin, who averages close to 50 in 16 Tests. He has something of Lara’s power and flamboyance, though less flair, but that could be said of almost anyone.
For West Indies to compete, England’s batting needs to collapse against a promising fast-bowling attack. The 23-year-old Kemar Roach is the best West Indian fastman since Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. He has 62 wickets at 28 in 16 Tests and troubled the Australians in the recent Test series in the Caribbean, earning the respect of Michael Clarke.
Fidel Edwards is a more impressive performer these days. Once considered too erratic for Test matches, he has developed greater accuracy under the guidance of the West Indies coach Otis Gibson. The visitors also possess a mystery spinner in Shane Shillingford who bagged 10 wickets in his most recent Test, against Australia in Dominica.
But they are up against a batting side which revels in playing at Lord’s. Kevin Pietersen averages 65.72 at the home of cricket, Alastair Cook just over 50 and Trott just under 100. Matt Prior made a ton on debut in 2007 against these opponents and has followed that up with two more. Andrew Strauss also scored a ton on debut here. And so it goes.
Most of the players have made runs in the county championship. Alastair Cook is one exception and Strauss has not made the big score he wanted. If there is one slight Achilles heel it is that two or three players are under pressure to perform after a poor winter. Strauss is chief among them after going 18 months without a hundred.
But England bat so deep, especially if Bresnan plays, that it’s hard to see them getting bowled out cheaply.
Aside from Strauss’s form, the major interest in the batting is the exciting selection of Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow at six. He is a natural athlete, a gifted strokeplayer and a wonderful fielder. But it’s his rock-solid temperament that has attracted Andy Flower. It remains to be seen if he is ready for Test match cricket, but he has the mystery x-factor that sets players apart.