WI vs Eng, 1st Test, Antigua – West Indies batters ‘need to give the bowlers something to work with’

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Absence of James Anderson and Stuart Broad won’t make hosts complacent, says coach

West Indies will be focused on ensuring that their batters grind out enough runs for the bowlers to put England’s revamped Test side under pressure in Antigua, rather than worrying about who is or isn’t in the XI for the tourists.

The absence of James Anderson and Stuart Broad for England has been a running theme during the build-up to the three-Test series, but both Kraigg Brathwaite, West Indies’ captain, and Phil Simmons, the head coach, cautioned against setting too much significance by the non-selection of two of the three most-prolific fast bowlers in history.

While England’s recent travails in Test cricket have been well documented, West Indies come into the series with just one win in their last eight Tests. During that time, they have passed 300 just once in 16 innings, and been bowled out for fewer than 200 on seven occasions.

Desmond Haynes’ new selection panel responded by bringing back John Campbell and Shamarh Brooks – who last played in March 2021 and December 2020 respectively – and dropping Shai Hope and Roston Chase from the squad. While opener Campbell has just two half-centuries to his name in 15 Tests, he made four scores between 33 and 47 in his debut series against England three years ago, and returns to the side after scoring a century for Jamaica in the regional four-day championship.

“I think the last time England were here, and we beat them, the opening pair was Kraigg and John Campbell,” Simmons said. “So let’s hope that’s a good omen for us, because they are back together and they gave the team some good starts. So that’s what we’ve been talking about, getting a good start and then making sure that the top four put things together and not leave it for the middle and lower order.

“That’s been the aspect of the five-day camp that we had, addressing the fact that batsmen need to bat long, we need to make sure we give the bowlers something to work with. And I think that the camp went well, so I expect good things from them.”

After leading West Indies to a memorable 2-0 win in Bangladesh in February 2021, Brathwaite has seen the team’s fortunes dip, with a drawn home series against Sri Lanka followed by three consecutive defeats. West Indies can draw on a strong home record against England, however, and Brathwaite was confident that the hosts have enough firepower to maintain their edge.

“As a team, we’re really looking forward to it,” Brathwaite said. “We’re feeling confident, and maybe not worrying about England’s team, but what we do as a team and we’re really looking forward to the challenge.

“It means a lot [playing England], obviously the Barmy Army comes down and gives you a nice atmosphere. We always look forward to this series, especially at home. And we look forward to the challenge. They have some quality cricketers still, so when we do well, you know it’s still a good feeling.

“I think the series itself is always different to every other series we have. I think we’re generally very good at home, especially the bowlers do a fantastic job at home. And obviously it’s also our job as batters to get runs, but, I mean the series always has a lot of energy and at times that can inspire guys. You know I think at home we’re generally good.”

The fragility of the batting on both sides is underlined by the fact that only one batter other than Joe Root – West Indies’ No. 3 Nkrumah Bonner – currently averages more than 40 in Test cricket. For that reason, Simmons warned that West Indies could not afford to be complacent about the calibre of the attack fielded by England.

“You can call it an advantage but again, no Broad, no Anderson, we keep harping on that,” he said. “But when you don’t have the experience, you have young fellas having to make their name and that is something that you have to guard against too. For me, you can’t be looking at that and saying well look, that’s a big advantage, because then you tend to get complacent and you tend to get found out early.

“So we have not been looking at the fact that there’s no Broad and Anderson, we’ve been looking at who there is, and there’s still some quality bowlers in there, which we still have to bat against.”

West Indies could yet be boosted by the return of a fast bowler of their own later in the series, with Simmons impressed by the progress of Shannon Gabriel after he joined the squad in Antigua to continue his rehab from a hamstring injury.

“He’s a lot further on than I thought he was,” Simmons said. “He bowled with some pace today, so we’ll see what happens over the next four or five days. This squad was selected for the first Test, so we’ll see where he’s at while he’s training with us and then we can make a decision on the second Test.”

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick

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