ENGLAND TOUR OF WEST INDIES, 2019
Jason Holder won’t feature in the St Lucia Test but are England good enough at the moment to take advantage of that? © Getty
The last time England were on the receiving end of a ‘blackwash’ in the Caribbean, Wisden accused David Gower’s squad of mentally clocking off before the end of the tour. The 1986 tourists played 14 matches in all on that trip, losing ten of them, including the five Tests against a rampant West Indies, so maybe it was unsurprising that England wanted their ordeal at the hands of Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Michael Holding to be over as soon as possible.
Thirty-three years later and looking down the barrel of another clean sweep, albeit over three matches, it might be tempting for Joe Root’s current group of England players to feel similarly after the humblings they have endured in the opening two Tests in Barbados and Antigua. But with just two games left before the Ashes, attention must be focused on the final Test in St Lucia, beginning on Saturday (February 9), in an attempt to salvage something – anything – from this tour.
Even if England do not lack for motivation, such has been the dominance of the West Indies’ performances in the series to date that, despite missing their captain Jason Holder who has been suspended for a slow over rate offence in the previous match, it would take quite a swing of form for them to be defeated. Given hardly anyone gave them much of a chance to compete with England before the series started, let alone win it, a clean sweep would be a remarkable result.
Not that Holder’s men wouldn’t deserve it. West Indies have been the more disciplined team, with a more aggressive and quicker bowling attack and a far steadier top order. In contrast, England have looked meek and brittle in most departments, most obviously in the batting where nobody averages better than 27. If a change of personnel is not on the cards for the visitors – England only have Keaton Jennings as a spare batsman and he was dropped for the previous match – a change of approach and, perhaps, batting order might be considered.
Holder’s absence will, however, be keenly felt by the home team. The opening two Tests of this series have shown him to be a fine leader, one who has the total respect of his charges, and well worth his billing as the best all-rounder in the world rankings. He will not be easily replaced with either bat, average of 114.50 in this series, or ball, seven wickets at less than 18, and although he will be around the squad to offer support, his lead-from-the-front type leadership in the middle will no doubt be missed.
Without him, West Indies will attempt to improve on a poor record at the Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, having won just one of their six Tests at the ground, but seldom can they have approached a game on the island in such confident mood. Not that victory is assured, of course. Given the pitch is renowned as the best batting surface in the Caribbean, forcing a result could be the biggest challenge West Indies have faced over the last four weeks.
When: Saturday February 9, 2019. 10:00am Local Time.
Where: Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, Gros Islet, St Lucia.
What to expect: Although the pitch is expected to be true for batting – welcome relief for the batsmen on both sides after the difficult Antiguan surface – there should also be some pace and bounce for the quicker men which would suit the home team nicely. Unfortunately, early indications are that there could be some wet weather around during the game.
With Holder suspended, the home side have called up 20 year-old fast-bowling all-rounder Keemo Paul to the squad. If West Indies think extra pace is needed, uncapped Jamaican Oshane Thomas might get a game although that would weaken the batting while Paul, who has been in decent form for Guyana, would offer a more like-for-like replacement of Holder. Kraigg Brathwaite will captain the team.
Probable XI: Kraigg Brathwaite (c), John Campbell, Shai Hope, Darren Bravo, Roston Chase, Shimron Hetmyer, Shane Dowrich(w), Keemo Paul, Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph, Shannon Gabriel
England could bring in Mark Wood for Sam Curran to add some pace to a bowling attack which has looked rather one-dimensional in the first two Tests. The batting order is expected to remain the same with Joe Denly getting another go as opener but captain Joe Root could move up one place to number three to better balance England’s all-rounders in the middle order.
Probable XI: Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root(c), Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Ben Foakes(w), Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, James Anderson
What they said
“Were Trevor’s words stinging? Yes, of course. As a player, when those kind of things are questioned, it can hurt your pride.” – Jos Buttler reacts to coach Trevor Bayliss saying that England lack mental discipline