ANTIGUA: West Indies and England face-off in the first Test of a three-match series at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua on Monday, with both sides involved in reconstruction and rehabilitation following a wretched few months.
Facing the wrath of the Indian authorities following an unprecedented abandonment of the tour there last October and with several of their star players either overlooked by the selectors or unwilling to represent the regional team, there is considerable trepidation over the prospects of the West Indies in the opening fixture, notwithstanding the ground’s reputation as a batting paradise.
Chris Gayle announced his unavailability for the assignment, although he is turning out for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the lucrative Indian Premier League.
Dwayne Bravo, captain of the squad who walked out of the Indian campaign, appears to be paying the price for his role in that fiasco, although the official line from the selectors is that they are looking to younger players to try to take the team forward.
While the West Indies were at least able to qualify out of their preliminary group at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand last month, England failed to advance beyond the group stage, inviting widespread condemnation at home.
One batsman who is expected to make a return in Antigua is Jonathan Trott, as the 33-year-old South African-born player looks set to open the batting in his 50th Test with captain Alastair Cook.
Without a century for his country in more than a year-and-a-half, Cook is likely to attract almost forensic attention, both for his leadership and form with the bat, as England embark on an arduous campaign of 17 Tests over a nine-month period.
However the game unfolds, England and their army of travelling supporters are anticipating at least one moment of celebration as experienced seam and swing bowler James Anderson needs four wickets in his 100th Test to surpass celebrated all-rounder Ian Botham’s tally of 383 — the most by an England cricketer in Tests.
Home captain Denesh Ramdin has spoken of relying on spinners to win the series for him, raising the prospect of a final XI comprising both Bishoo and left-armer Sulieman Benn.
That would leave Kemar Roach and Jerome Taylor, the destroyer of England in the decisive first Test in Jamaica in 2009, as the twin spearheads of a bowling attack.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2015.
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