With less than 100 days remaining for the World Cup, both England and West Indies are all set for a dress-rehearsal in the upcoming five-match ODI series, starting at the Kensington Oval in Barbados on Wednesday. Rejuvenated after their epic 2-1 triumph in the Test matches, the home team would like to carry the momentum over to the white-ball leg of the tour. However, the Eoin Morgan-led England side, which plays a swashbuckling brand of cricket in this format, will certainly be a tough nut to crack.
For both camps though, the ODI series will be more about identifying its ideal combination for the World Cup rather than temporary success.
West Indies need to convert potential into performance
The West Indies have had a torrid time in the 50-over format in recent years. Having missed the 2017 Champions Trophy, Windies only managed to qualify for the mega event after a narrow escape against Scotland in the ICC World Cup Qualifiers 2018 in Zimbabwe. Due to various reasons, they haven’t had the services of their key white-ball players, which has had a direct impact on their performances. They have only managed to win 11 of their last 40 ODIs, and it is for that very reason that this team is languishing at the ninth spot in the ICC ODI team rankings.
So, for the boys from the Caribbean, it is time to rise from the ashes.
However, going into the high-profile series against the No 1-ranked ODI team in the world, the Windies are once again unable to field a full-strength squad. Already without mystery spinner Sunil Narine and all-rounder Andre Russell, the home team will further miss the services of opener Evin Lewis as well as all-rounders Keemo Paul and Rovman Powell — the trio ruled out of the series due to injury concerns. In their place, the Courtney Browne-led selection committee has decided to experiment about in the squad for the first two ODIs.
They have picked left-arm seamer Sheldon Cottrell, T20I skipper Carlos Brathwaite, uncapped wicket-keeper-batsman Nicholas Pooran as well as opener John Campbell. Veteran Chris Gayle is also making a comeback in the ODI squad as part of the World Cup scheme of things.
Brathwaite’s last ODI appearance was in May 2018 whereas Gayle and Cottrell featured in the last home series against Bangladesh that took place two months later. Pooran, nevertheless, has got this opportunity based on his recent T20 success. And Campbell has been rewarded for his consistent show at the top-order in the just-concluded Test series. On Wednesday, it will be interesting to find out who between Pooran and Campbell gets the nod from the team management to open the innings alongside Gayle.
Eyes will also be on the usual suspects Darren Bravo, Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer to deliver the goods in the middle-order.
Interestingly, with the likes of skipper Jason Holder, Kemar Roach, Oshane Thomas and Cottrell around, their pace department seems to have some firepower. To complement the fast bowlers, there is off-spinner Ashley Nurse and leggie Devendra Bishoo in the squad. One of them is expected to make it to the final XI.
On paper this seems like a decent West Indies side with some potential. Now, the challenge for head-coach Richard Pybus and rest of the team management is to convert this potential into performance.
England look to follow their ODI template
For the settled England side, things are not much complicated. They have a ready-made ODI template in place and Morgan and company will simply look to follow it. The visitors have a full-strength squad and at the start of the series the think-tank is unlikely to go for any sort of experimentation, especially after not enjoying much success in the first-half of the tour.
In the warm-up game against the Vice-Chancellor's XI, the English batsmen enjoyed a run feast. On their way to a mammoth total of 371 for 7, both Jason Roy and Test skipper Joe Root stroked fluent hundreds. Opening the innings alongside Roy, Jonny Bairstow had some runs under his belt as well, which more or less confirms Alex Hales’ non selection, at least in the series-opener.
With Root, Morgan, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali in the fray, taming the English middle-order will be a herculean task for the relatively inexperienced West Indies attack. Furthermore, this England team bats deep, with someone like Adil Rashid coming out at No 10. So, every time they bat first, we can expect this line-up to touch, if not cross, the 350-run mark.
Their bowling is versatile as well. From two quality spinners to an exceptional pace bowling unit — the English camp seems to have every base covered.
As far as the series opener at Bridgetown is concerned, the visitors are expected to play three front-line pacers alongside the all-round option of Stokes and the spin-duo of Ali and Rashid. And judging from the recent performances, Chris Woakes, Liam Plunkett and Mark Wood are likely to make the cut whereas left-arm seamer David Willey may have wait for his chances later in the series.
Nevertheless, with the temperature expected to rise till 28 degrees in Barbados during the game, it will be a test of fitness for the English fast bowlers. Furthermore, it won’t be surprising if spinners start getting some purchase out of that surface as well.
Ideally, keeping an eye at their World Cup preparations, England should go into the series aiming to win the first three games in order to test its bench strength in the last two outings. And they are the red-hot favourites to do so, unless the home team comes up with something extra-ordinary.
West Indies: Chris Gayle, Nicholas Pooran(w), Shai Hope, Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer, Jason Holder(c), Carlos Brathwaite, Ashley Nurse, Devendra Bishoo, Fabian Allen, Oshane Thomas, Kemar Roach, Sheldon Cottrell, John Campbell
England: Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan(c), Jos Buttler(w), Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Chris Woakes, Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood, Alex Hales, David Willey, Tom Curran, Joe Denly
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