West Indies and England licking wounds ahead of Test series
West Indies and England initiate the rebuilding process from the rubble of disastrous campaigns when their three-match Test series begins on Tuesday at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua.
The visitors' 4-0 thrashing in the latest Ashes contest and a record-equalling nine defeats in the last calendar year have pushed England into sweeping changes.
The Caribbean side are contending with yet another Test slump in which a 2-0 series reversal in Sri Lanka at the end of 2021 left them with a record of five losses in their last six matches.
Desperate to distance themselves from the soul-destroying experience Down Under, the English side taking the field in Antigua is set to show at least six changes, including debutant opener Alex Lees, from their final capitulation in Hobart eight weeks earlier.
Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, the celebrated swing and seam bowling tandem who are the country’s highest-ever wicket-takers in Tests, were sensationally omitted from this touring party.
Now their absence has been compounded by the loss of emerging seam talent Ollie Robinson who is sidelined by a back injury sustained in the last week's warm-up four-day match.
However history is not on England’s side, notwithstanding the seemingly perennial struggles of the West Indies at home in the game’s traditional format.
In the 54 years since Gary Sobers' famous double declaration opened the door to what proved a series-clinching victory for Colin Cowdrey's visitors in 1968, England have only one other series triumph to show for ten subsequent Caribbean campaigns -- a 3-0 success in 2004 when Michael Vaughan was at the helm.
"I think we just need to play the cricket we know we can to give ourselves a fighting chance," said West Indies head coach Phil Simmons.
"We know there is a real challenge with the batting and we have been working hard over the past few days to rectify that problem and give the bowlers something to work with."
- 'Prove a point' -
Simmons also identified the duels between rival all-rounders Jason Holder and Ben Stokes, along with the batting contributions of rival captains Kraigg Brathwaite and Joe Root as potential decisive factors across the three matches.
"To come away from here winning (the series) would be a huge achievement. I think it's an opportunity for all of us to prove a point," was Root’s pre-match assessment.
He also rubbished suggestions that the omission of Anderson and Broad pointed towards England using this series with an eye towards the development of young talent.
"You don’t come into a Test series not wanting to win," Root stressed.
"We're very much committed to winning this series."
With the Wisden Trophy retired after England's come-from-behind triumph in a similar three-match contest at the height of the Covid 19 pandemic challenges in the English summer of 2020, the teams are now vying for the Richards-Botham Trophy, named in honour of Vivian Richards and Ian Botham.
Great friends and former teammates at Somerset on the English county circuit for 12 years from 1974 to 1986, both were present at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium for the unveiling of the new prize on Sunday.
It was an early present for the Antiguan national hero who celebrated his 70th birthday on the eve of the first Test.
West Indies -– Kraigg Brathwaite (captain), John Campbell, Nkrumah Bonner, Shamarh Brooks, Kyle Mayers, Jermaine Blackwood, Jason Holder, Joshua da Silva (wicketkeeper), Kemar Roach, Jayden Seales, Veerasammy Permaul.
England -– Joe Root (captain), Zak Crawley, Alex Lees, Dan Lawrence, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Foakes (wicketkeeper), Chris Woakes, Craig Overton, Mark Wood, Jack Leach.
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