The jury is out on the West Indies Test team led by Jason Holder and if they can pull off another Southampton-like performance, it will give the English side a decent run for their money.
Even before the first ball was bowled in the first Test match at Southampton last week, the West Indies team was hailed for showing guts and a big heart for deciding to travel to the United Kingdom amid the coronavirus pandemic that has wreaked havoc across the globe. Then after handing out a convincing defeat to the home side on the back of a phenomenal team effort, Jason Holder’s men have won laurels from fans and pundits alike for showing character. Now, sitting at a 1-0 lead in the series, this West Indian team has a real chance to show the world that they mean business and are on the tour to display some tough character on the field.
Having jumped the ladder to the number two position on the ICC Test rankings for the bowlers and grabbing the best allrounder crown, Holder now has his task cut out against a hurting England who will be itching to settle the scoreline in Manchester with the full-time skipper Joe Root back in the eleven.
Notably, It was not easy for the men in maroon to trounce English Men in their own backyard and that too in the first test of the series. The feat, however, was not completely strange for the West Indies as they had defeated the England team on their previous tour in 2018 as well.
Ian Bishop who is believed to have one of the finest minds as a cricket expert said that the imposition of quarantine norms post their arrival in the UK helped West Indies squad in acclimatising with the conditions in England. An early arrival set the pace for the team to get used to the overhead conditions and the cricketing conditions and the result in Southampton proved the worth of reaching early in England before any series.
West Indies proved two old sayings in cricket correct in Southampton. First, that playing attritional cricket pays off if it can be backed with proper planning and execution and second, that when the Duke ball starts moving around, it’s not so much easy for the batsmen to cope with it, no matter how low a first-inning total a team is trailing by.
The absence of Joe Root who was away from the national duty due to his family responsibilities made the ever-so unreliable English batting order thinner and the West Indies bowler, especially Shannon Gabriel made sure to capitalise on the frailties. Gabriel found immaculate lengths suitable for that slow and spongy pitch and along with his main arson– searing pace forced Stokes and co. to search for short and rising deliveries while he bowled short of good length and full-lengths to pick up most of his wickets.
Ben Stokes, leading the team for the first time in his career would now realise that a player can take the game by the scruff of the neck and turn it around for the team but being the captain of a team, one needs all permutations and combinations to click through simultaneously to produce a desirable result. Stokes’s dilemma of picking pace of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood over the consistency and longevity of Stuart Broad was nothing short of a gamble for someone who is touted to be the next leader of the pack for the England team. Stokes now is more than raw talent and the experience he would have gathered in Southampton will make him richer with insights on leading a team and a cricketer with a broader outlook on the game.
England Probable XI for Manchester test
As Joe Root is set to walk back into the XI, there will be a fight for a spot between Zak Crawley and Joe Denly. A fighting inning of 76 by Crawley, played under pressure in the second innings of the Southampton Test might have sealed the spot for the batsman. With middling scores and more worryingly the habit of getting out by soft dismissals after getting starts, Joe Denly has not helped his case. Denly has now played 15 Tests without scoring any century and with scores of 29 and 18 in just-concluded Test, his career average has dipped below 30 which is certainly not good enough for a number three batsman in the English side. He has passed the 50 run-mark only once in his last 10 innings.
With Essex wicketkeeper Ben Foakes in the mix, a perpetual threat is hanging on Jos Buttler who too has not had great outings with the bat in the last so many matches. Buttler’s last half-century had come in the fifth and last Test of the Ashes series last year. He then had a disastrous tour of South Africa where he failed to score even one fifty over the course of four Tests. However, his glovework has been outstanding, except for a dropped catch off Jermaine Blackwood in the West Indies chase in Southampton and also he has the backings of England head coach Chris Silverwood.
Silverwood clearly backed Buttler but hesitated to make any revelations about Denly’s place in the XI and said that Root and the national selector Ed Smith will have to sort that out while finalising the thirteen for Manchester test.
Ultimately, Joe Denly has been dropped from the 13 men squad selected for the Manchester test while Buttler managed to save his place in the team.
In the bowling department, England has decided to rest James Anderson who would have got a real opportunity to reach the milestone of 600 wickets on his home ground and Mark Wood who clearly looked out of sorts in Southampton.
Just on the eve of the Manchester Test, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) released a statement notifying a breach of the bio-secure environment protocols by Jofra Archer and his subsequent omission from the squad selected to feature in the Manchester Test.
Jofra Archer’s absence provides a real chance of debut for the Sussex seamer Ollie Robinson who along with Sam Curran were added in the 13-men squad for the Manchester Test in place of Anderson and Wood while Chris Woakes will compete with Curran for the second all-rounder spot in the team.
England players to watch out for in Manchester
Zak Crawley batted well for his 76 in the second innings of the Southampton test before England lost its way by losing too many wickets in a cluster. The Kent batsman debuted at number 6 and then opened on the tour of South Africa. He has looked organised in his technique and also used his feet effectively against the spin of Roston Chase.
After failing to leave a major impact on the outcome of the first test, especially in the second innings when he went wicketless, James Anderson will be hoping to turn around his fortune at his home ground at Old Trafford. Anderson is just 13 wickets away from record 600 wickets – a feat that has only been achieved by Anil Kumble, Shane Warne, and Muttiah Muralidharan. Anderson won’t get a better opportunity to produce a masterclass and reach the milestone at the ground he started his playing career playing for Lancashire.
West Indies Probable XI for Manchester test
Apart from the opener John Campbell’s spot, who had received an injury to his right toe from a Jofra Archer yorker, West Indies do not have much to fret about on its XI for the Manchester match.
West Indies players to watch out for in Manchester Test
Kraigg Brathwaite looked to be reaching his best touch and he played the balls late, in his trademark style. West Indies needed him to come good at the start of the inning to negate Anderson’s impact on the middle order. If he can sustain Anderson’s new-ball spell, the world will be a lot easier for the likes of Shamarh Brooks, Roston Chase, and Jermaine Blackwood in the middle order.
Shai Hope who was the hero in the 2018 win, threw his wicket away looking for an expensive drive against Dominic Bess in the first innings when he looked settled at the crease while an inducker from Wood found him driving from the crease and the balls crashed on to stumps after hitting his thigh.
In the bowling department, West Indies would hope for a better performance from Kemar Roach, who has a terrific record against left-handed batsmen. If he can come up with good performance in Manchester, West Indies will again present a formidable challenge to the English batting unit who are in a desperate search for runs.
Pitch and weather
Traditionally, the pitch at Old Trafford supports fast bowling and is considered to be one of the fastest pitches in England as it offers consistent movement and carry for seamers.
Weather in Manchester is expected to hold up nicely for the second Test with the chance of precipitation exceeding 50 per cent only on the last three days of the match. The first two days are expected to receive little to no rainfall.