“We’re not going to panic,” Paul Collingwood said last week, midway through England’s one and only warm-up game ahead of a Test series that – fairly or otherwise – is destined to attract some snap judgements in the coming days. As preambles go for England’s much-vaunted “red-ball reset”, it wasn’t the most glowing of status reports.
Root can at least anticipate a similar level of commitment from his vice-captain, the somewhat battered talisman Ben Stokes, even if Stokes’ struggles in the Ashes were proof that it’s not quite as simple as flicking a switch and finding your best form when you’ve endured quite such high-profile setbacks as he did last year.
In theory, however, it ought to be England’s batting that gives their team the edge in this series – which is a curious conclusion to reach after they failed to reach 300 in any of their ten Ashes innings. There’s also Jonny Bairstow at No. 6, after all – the man who produced quite possibly the best innings on either side in the Ashes, a thrillingly combative century at Sydney that briefly kept a rampant Australia attack at arm’s length.
Overall, however, West Indies are suffering from a malaise not dissimilar to that which has dogged England in the recent past. The preponderance of white-ball cricket at regional level has produced some outstanding ball-strikers in recent years, and some proud success on the global stage. But it has left too many batters too ill-equipped for the rigours of the red-ball game – a debate that was enthusiastically taken up by Mali Richards, son of Viv, during his commentary duties in England’s warm-up game.
As such, there’s no knowing what to expect in the coming days, except that West Indies will be gunning for the contest in a matter befitting the regional pride that their home record against England has long instilled. Whether or not you think that the dropping of Anderson and Broad is proof of England’s complacency or a necessary step in the “resetting” of those flatlined red-ball fortunes, you can rest assured how their absences will be framed in the Windies’ team-talks, and how there will be an extra spring in a few steps as they seek once more to rally round.
(Last five matches; most recent first)
West Indies LLLWL
In the spotlight
West Indies have recalled opener John Campbell after a year out of the side, and are set to pick left-arm spinner Veerasammy Permaul in a home Test for the first time since 2015. Shai Hope and Roston Chase were dropped following defeat in Sri Lanka, meaning a reshaped middle order – Shamarh Brooks offers another batting option, though the temptation may be to target England’s batting fragility with a five-man attack. Shannon Gabriel was not fit to be picked in the squad but has been training with West Indies in Antigua and could feature later in the series.
West Indies (possible) 1 Kraigg Brathwaite (capt), 2 John Campbell, 3 Nkrumah Bonner, 4 Kyle Mayers, 5 Jermaine Blackwood, 6 Jason Holder, 7 Joshua da Silva (wk), 8 Alzarri Joseph, 9 Kemar Roach, 10 Veerasammy Permaul, 11 Jayden Seales
England have named their 12-man squad already, with Robinson’s absence notable following a back spasm in the warm-up. With Jack Leach a probable starter, Woakes already talked up as a new-ball shoo-in, and Wood sure to play if he is fully fit after undergoing blood tests last week, the final place looks like being a tussle between Overton and the uncapped Saqib Mahmood. Mahmood would be the bolder pick, but seeing as he was not in the warm-up frame until Wood’s illness, Overton is the likelier man to get his chance, following a brace of appearances against India last summer.
England (probable) 1 Alex Lees, 2 Zak Crawley, 3 Joe Root (capt), 4 Dan Lawrence, 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jonny Bairstow, 7 Ben Foakes (wk), 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Craig Overton, 10 Mark Wood, 11 Jack Leach
Pitch and conditions
A straw-coloured, intermittently cracked surface awaits on Tuesday, although it’s anyone’s guess at this stage how it will play. West Indies and Sri Lanka played out two high-scoring draws in the ground’s most recent contests last year, although it didn’t seem that way when Sri Lanka crumbled to 169 all out in their first innings. The weather is set to be glorious, with intermittent Caribbean storms coming and going in a matter of minutes.
Stats and trivia
“Obviously they’re missing two experienced bowlers [in Anderson and Broad], but at the end of the day cricket is played on the park so we’re not taking it for granted.”
Kraigg Brathwaite is focused West Indies beating on the opposition players who have been picked to tour
“We know that historically it’s not an easy place for England to come and play – but that’s a great opportunity for the group. To come away from here winning would be a huge achievement.”
Joe Root on the challenge for a new-look England side
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket