After an excellent 3-1 series win at home over South Africa, England are all set to host their first pink-ball Test under lights when the first of three matches against Windies starts Thursday (August 17) at Edgbaston.
On the face of it, it’s a no-contest. England are currently ranked No. 3 in the world, they are upbeat after beating South Africa, and are playing in their territory. Up against them is the No. 8 team in the world, a team that has won just two of the 15 Tests they have played in the last two years while losing ten. The Windies squad wears a careworn look, with experience at a premium in all departments.
The good news for the Jason Holder-led team, though, is that most of their batsmen have been among the runs in the three practice matches they have played so far. All of Kraigg Brathwaite, Roston Chase, Jermaine Blackwood and Shane Dowrich got at least one good score heading into the third game, against Derbyshire, where they upped the ante with Kieran Powell scoring 92 and 100 (retired), and Kyle Hope, Shai Hope and Chase all scoring hundreds in the first innings.
Along with the batsmen doing well, there was a satisfactory performance from Kemar Roach, the comeback man, who returned a five-for in the first game, against Essex. Roach last played Test cricket in January 2016, and if in rhythm, his contribution could be vital from Windies’ point of view in a pace attack that also has Shannon Gabriel, Alzarri Joseph and Miguel Cummins.
England: Joe Root (capt), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Dawid Malan, Toby Roland-Jones, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, Tom Westley, Chris Woakes.
Windies: Jason Holder (capt), Kraigg Brathwaite, Devendra Bishooo, Jermaine Blackwood, Roston Chase, Miguel Cummins, Shane Dowrich (wk), Shannon Gabriel, Shimron Hetmyer, Kyle Hope, Shai Hope (wk), Alzarri Joseph, Kieran Powell, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach.
Not to forget that despite their mediocre performances on the whole, Windies did draw a three-Test series 1-1 back home in the Caribbean in 2015 against England, the last time they faced off in the longest format.
As expected, England look strong with Alastair Cook and Joe Root the frontmen at the top of the order, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali the big men in the middle, and a strong bowling attack headlined by James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Toby Roland-Jones, Moeen and Stokes.
Root, the England captain, confirmed that barring the inclusion of Mark Stoneman — in place of the misfiring Keaton Jennings to partner Cook at the top — the hosts would retain the side that beat South Africa in the third Test. That meant that Chris Woakes, the fit-again allrounder, and Mason Crane, the Hampshire legspinner, would have to sit out.
“Chris Woakes and Mason Crane are the two guys who will miss out,” Root told Sky Sports at Edgbaston. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the rest of the guys to experience a pink ball Test match for the first time and we’re really excited.
“(Woakes) will have definitely wanted to play here but with the lack of game time he’s had, it felt like another week of loading up on overs making sure he’s absolutely ready coming back from a serious injury is important.”
Stuart Law, the Windies coach, had his focus trained on Mark Stoneman, the new opening partner for Cook, as well as Tom Westley and Dawid Malan, both greenhorns in the XI who haven’t yet cemented their spots.
“You always look at any little crack you can find,” said Law in the lead-up to the game. “With a couple of new guys to the fore in Test cricket, that’s an opportunity for our bowlers.”
Man for man, and on form, England look far stronger, but there’s also the other aspect to the Edgbaston Test – the pink ball. Windies have already played a pink-ball Test, against Pakistan in Dubai last year, which they lost by 56 runs, and also a warm-up game on this tour. Several England players have never encountered the phenomenon.
Broad, who has taken 379 wickets in 106 Tests, has only ever bowled one delivery with a pink ball, and said, “I just don’t know what to expect. We are just going to have to be so adaptable on the day and figure out what’s going on.”
Moeen, who against South Africa became the first man to take 25 wickets in a four-Test series, added, “It’s different … it feels lighter off the bat. Sometimes you don’t feel like you’ve hit it, and it goes; other times you’ve nailed it, and it doesn’t. But you get used to it … I did by the end of the (net) session.”
It should be interesting if Windies can put up a fight and compete at their best. If not, it could become one-way traffic pretty quickly.