On paper, England are definitely way ahead of the West Indies in ODIs. But cricket is a funny game and sometimes it takes just one man to alter the course of a match.
This West Indian ODI outfit is a perfect blend of their disorganised Test squad and vibrant T20 squad. There is the reliable Shai Hope, who established himself as West Indies’ future in the Test series. There’s Jason Holder, who leads the team in Tests and is back at the helm after handing over duties to Carlos Brathwaite in the T20s. Not to mention T20 heroes Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels, who are back in the ODI set-up. There is also a blend of experience and youth in the pace bowling resources.
The West Indies team at the moment looks completely different to the one that prepared for this England tour. An unanticipated Test victory gave them the mojo and lift they needed on a tour that was expected to go from bad to worse. In fact, so far it has gone quite well for the Windies. Despite their series loss in Tests, the visitors played out of their skins and proved to be stiff opponents to England.
In the lone T20, their rampant opening pair, Gayle and his understudy, Evin Lewis, lambasted England bowlers in the powerplay overs. The spinners then choked the life out of England's dynamic batting unit to give the Windies a surge ahead of the ODIs.
As the teams prepare to take on each other for a five-match One-Day series, the odds of West Indies pushing England cannot be totally neglected. Two months ago, such a suggestion would have been scoffed at. Not anymore.
Unlike the Windies, England’s fortunes have been on the rise in limited-overs cricket since the 2015 World Cup. They made wholesale changes to the squad, identified their shorter format personnel and put in dazzling performances so much so that when the next big ICC ODI tournament happened (Champions Trophy in 2017), England were the favourites and not just because they were the hosts.
But a crushing defeat against eventual champions, Pakistan, in the semi-finals of the tournament dashed their hopes of completing their rebuild in ODI cricket. That said, the World Cup would return to the country in two years and England have time to eliminate their weaknesses and build upon their strengths.
West Indies did not even have the luxury of competing in the multi-nation tournament in England. Being the No 9-ranked ODI team, the Windies missed out on a Champions Trophy spot and had to be content with playing Afghanistan at home. But that kind of time-off has done the former world champions a world of good.
The selectors have pondered over the migration of players to T20 leagues and an amicable settlement has been brought about between the players and the board. While most of their players are yet to fully commit themselves to limited-overs cricket, the return of Gayle, Samuels and Jerome Taylor augurs well for the Windies.
With the five match ODI series in mind, let us take a glance at the strengths and weaknesses of both these teams.
England's biggest strength is the plethora of match-winners in their batting line-up. Ranging from the dynamic Alex Hales to the cheeky Eoin Morgan and the belligerent Jos Buttler, England have a wide variety of batsmen who can do their bidding. Add to that the stability of Joe Root and the aggression of Ben Stokes, and we have a near perfect batting line-up.
England's batting has been the most talked about aspect of their game since the 2015 event in Australia and New Zealand. They have transformed as a unit and now have a pretty stable batting line-up in ODIs.
The hosts also have plenty of all-rounders in the squad with Stokes, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes expected to start most of the games. Even the likes of Liam Plunkett and Adil Rashid are more than good with the willow, lengthening the hosts’ batting and enabling them to attack from the word go.
One area which has pegged back England in recent times is the manner in which they have allowed the spinners to dictate terms to them. Their batsmen struggled to rotate strike and find the odd boundary in the middle-overs in India where the spinners operated in tandem. Even in the Champions Trophy, Pakistan tied them down with their spinners and the Windies pretty much followed the same template in the lone T20 game.
England's spin woes aren't new but if they target a World Cup victory, they need to be able to groom their batsmen into better players of spin bowling. Windies have plenty of slow bowling options up their sleeve and the sluggish nature of quite a few surfaces in England in recent times will also work against the hosts.
The 'see ball, hit it’ formula of the Windies top order is something which adds an X-factor to their batting. Right from the openers to Jason Holder and Rovman Powell, Windies boast of a slew of hard-hitters who can transfer the pressure onto the opposition bowlers.
England’s pace bowlers, except Woakes, are slightly inexperienced and this could also work on favour of the ruthless West Indian batsmen. If Gayle and Lewis can go berserk early on, the hosts will find it hard to maintain the pressure on the middle-order where the likes of Samuels, Jason Mohammed and Hope bat.
While the T20 style batting approach is West Indies’ strength, it is also their weakness. When things go awry, they do not have an experienced and stable batsman walking in to calm down proceedings and arrest the slide. West Indies need a player like MS Dhoni who can bring calm amidst the storm if they are to win matches without their big-hitters.
England have a strong bowling attack which means the Windies may not really have their way with the bat. The likes of Gayle, Lewis, Samuels and Mohammed aren't totally reliable and if wickets start falling in clusters, Windies will struggle to put up a competitive total on the board.