Almost symbolically, it is a Test match that will usher the sport in the coronavirus-forced hiatus.
A significantly large entourage of touring cricketers and support staff from the Caribbean have been in England for four weeks. They have been 'bubbled' in and around the vicinity of the Old Trafford in Manchester. Besides the regular nets, the visitors have split themselves into two groups to play a couple of practice games, but now we close in on the real deal.
Very eventful morning here in Manchester 😳 Shannon Gabriel has already trapped Roston Chase LBW for 4 and look at what happened in his next over 😅
What are your thoughts; should this be out or not out? 😂
— Windies Cricket (@windiescricket) June 25, 2020
Highlight reels of matches have held cricket enthusiasts going for the last four months, the time for live action is upon us.
But, before we reach Wednesday 8 July, here's a look at some of the West Indies players who promise to light up the series.
In a largely inexperienced West Indies batting line up sans Darren Bravo, opener Kraigg Brathwaite will be shouldering massive responsibility at the top order. The 27-year-old right-hander is the most experienced batsman in the side. He along with Shai Hope were the chief architects of the famous Headingley triumph during Windies’ previous tour to England three summers ago.
Brathwaite, who scored 134 and 95 in the Test at Leeds, fell five runs short of notching centuries in each innings at the venue, a feat that Hope completed as West Indies chased down 322.
Brathwaite is not the one who dwells on the past, “Looking back at stuff I did I can obviously see things I did well, but that's history. I have a current job to do here and I'm ready, I'm raring to go,” he said in the lead up to the series.
However, since the Headingley heroics, Brathwaite’s form has been on the wane, with the Bajan averaging 25.33 in his last 20 Tests. He even resorted to seeking advice from former West Indies opener and fellow Barbadian, Desmond Haynes, before flying to England.
Every mention of Shai Hope is likely to evoke memories from Leeds 2017, where the eye-catching batsman stroked two of the most sublime centuries to script West Indies’ first Test win since 2000 on English soil. However, after the memorable outing in Headingley, not much is remembered fondly of Hope’s batting in the longer format. In fact, the Headingley hundred remains the last time he reached the three-figure mark in Tests.
Hope, like Brathwaite, will be West Indies’ batting mainstay around whom the team will chart their plans. Apart from his already mentioned accomplishments, he enjoys batting in English conditions. Hope played a couple of fluent and important innings in the World Cup last year and went on a run-scoring spree in the Tri-nation series in Ireland where he racked up 470 runs in five innings. Hope’s batting has bloomed in the ODIs, a format wherein he averages over 55 but has struggled to replicate similar success in Tests.
The Chase-Cornwall duo
The Windies could feature two off-spin-bowling all-rounders in their XI. Roston Chase is likely to have more of a batting role compared to his bowling contributions, while it will be the other way round for Cornwall.
Chase averages 31.38 with the bat with five centuries to his name. He had a disappointing tour of England in 2017 when he averaged 13.33 in six innings, but he stood tall against the English bowling attack in the second innings of the third Test at Gros Islet last February, hitting an unbeaten century where none of his teammates made a contribution of note.
Chase didn’t bowl a lot in England in 2017, but in 2019 on his home ground in Barbados, he ripped through England’s batting line up, bagging career-best figures of 8/60 in an innings, the best by a West Indies spinner since 1971.
Rahkeem Cornwall might have played only two Test matches, but has more than 300 wickets in the First-Class competitions. The off-spinner is tipped as a special talent and he has shown there is a good reason for the hype. The impressive debut against India where he had Virat Kohli tied up with his tight lines and induced an error from Cheteshwar Pujara, who became his first Test scalp, has shown how he can bring his tall frame into play to procure extra bounce.
In his second Test, in the favourable conditions in Lucknow against Afghanistan, Cornwall’s effectiveness came to the fore, as he went on to grab seven wickets in the first innings and then claimed three more in the second essay to cap a 10-wicket haul on his way to his first Player of the Match award.
Cornwall takes pride in his batting as well and in an interview with ESPNCricinfo last month, he said he is not far away from becoming a ‘full-blown’ all-rounder. With Windies’ batting being on the thinner side, he could contribute with some handy runs lower down the order.
Both Chase and Cornwall with their all-round skills could play a significant role and simultaneously add to the team’s balance.
Speaking of all-rounders: The number one all-rounder in Tests, Jason Holder, will be up against the number two, Ben Stokes, in a mano-a-mano in three-match series. Skipper, Holder would be high on confidence after beating England in the Caribbean last year, where he scored his maiden double century to put away any doubts that hovered over his batting credentials. Holder with his ability to hit the back of the length on a consistent basis along with subtle seam movement can be a great threat with the ball and in helpful conditions, he might even be unplayable.
Coming back from an injury and having not spent enough time in the middle in the warm-up games might cause some concern in the West Indian camp.
With 42 wickets in his last 12 Tests, Kemar Roach has been galloping towards the 200-wicket mark, which no West Indian bowler has achieved since Curtly Ambrose in 1994.
Roach, who is perhaps the most complete fast bowler in the squad, bowled one of the most devastating spells of fast bowling last year, where he claimed five wickets in 27 balls for just four runs against England. Roach considers his Bridgetown spell as one of the personal best performances.
If Roach can manage to reproduce a spell even close to what he delivered at the Kengsington Oval then West Indies could well have a chance of retaining the Wisden Trophy.
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Pace bowlers Muhammad Abbas and Naseem Shah have also won back spots in the Test squad that will play two games against the West Indies in Jamaica.
"I don't want people to just think we're taking the knee because Black Lives Matter, that's the tradition and that's the norm. It has to have some substance, it has to have some meaning behind it," Holder said.
Check out LIVE cricket score of the first Test match between West Indies and South Africa at St Lucia.