International cricket resumes after a pandemic-induced hiatus with the first Test between England and West Indies at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton. Blessed with fiery pace attacks, the two teams have evenly matched bowling attacks. In contrast, the inexperienced batting could be the key element that determines which side emerges on top.
Predicting the two team’s possible playing XI and listing the challenges they face.
1. Rory Burns: The opener scored a fluent 84 in his last international outing — in the second innings of the Boxing Day Test against South Africa at the Centurion. More than six months later, he will have his task cut out against a fiery West Indies pace attack comprising Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph.
2. Dom Sibley: Having featured in just six Tests so far, Sibley is relatively inexperienced at the international level. Ahead of this series, he revealed that he had worked hard on his fitness during the Covid break and lost upto 12kg. At the onset, he needs to forge a good understanding with his opening partner and ensure England get off to respectable starts.
3.Joe Denly: In the absence of the incumbent captain Joe Root, the onus will be on England’s new No.3 to weather the early outburst from the West Indies pace trio.
4. Zak Crawley: The youngster with the experience of just four Test matches, will be jettisoned in the crucial No.4 slot. Crawley, who made his debut against New Zealand in November last year, could muster scores of 43 and 34 during England’s warm-up match last week.
5. Ben Stokes (captain): Even though it’s a short-term role, there’s little doubt that this Test match would serve as the sternest test for the charismatic all-rounder. While there’s little doubt that he commands respect from his team-mates, the team management would be hoping that the additional responsibility of leading the side does not diminish his all-round prowess in any way.
6. Ollie Pope: Another new entrant into the England’s Test squad, Pope, in his seven Tests has shown his propensity to notch up scores on a consistent basis — his unbeaten 135 against South Africa in Port Elizabeth — is testimony to his burgeoning talents. For this Test match, he be pencilled in as a middle-order batsman since Jos Buttler will don the keeper’s gloves.
7.Jos Buttler (wk): Over the past decade, Jos Buttler has mesmerised audiences the world over with his explosive batting abilities in the shorter formats and the IPL, so much so that Shane Warne once called him his ‘cricketing crush.’ A player of such a calibre has not managed to replicate that form in the game’s longest format.Just a solitary century from 41 Tests at a lacklustre average of a shade over 31 are abysmal numbers. This series will hand him another opportunity to make amends and reboot his Test career.
8. Dom Bess: Given the dry and abrasive nature of the Southampton pitch, Dom Bess, the Somerset off-spinner could play a vital role much like Moeen Ali did during the 2018 Test match against India at this venue.
9. Jofra Archer: There’s been an intense debate about the composition of England’s pace attack for this match. The Covid break has given all the fast bowlers ample time to rest and recover from their niggles. In such a scenario, it will not be a bad idea to unleash Jofra Archer against the West Indies. His pace and x-factor could ultimately prove to be decisive.
10. Mark Wood: Having a fit and rejuvenated Mark Wood in your line-up is a mouth-watering prospect for Ben Stokes. Having a rapid Wood bowling in tandem with Archer could be the ultimate test for the West Indies. If Wood makes the cut, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes will have to be designated to ferrying drinks.
11. James Anderson: Stokes will once again bank on his most experienced pacer to make early inroads into the West Indies batting line-up. Anderson will bring in all his intelligence and nous and will be the ideal foil to the unrelenting pace of Archer and Wood.
1. John Campbell: The left-handed opener has a bit of an unorthodox streak to his batting. During the last series against England, he unleashed a series of ramp shots against James Anderson and Stuart Broad. In Southampton, though, Campbell will need to rein in his impetiousity and look to be more prosaic in his batting approach.
2. Kraigg Brathwaithe: He remains a vital cog in the West Indies top-order. A long-form specialist, he has struggled with form over the last 12 months. However, having the experience of playing County cricket will prove to be crucial.
3.Shamarh Brooks: Unlike the openers, Brooks is enjoying a bit of a purple patch, having scored a century against Afghanistan recently.
4.Shai Hope: Despite his indifferent form in Test cricket, Shai Hope comes to England with memories of the splendid back-to-back centuries at Headingley in 2017. The team management will be hoping that the break has given him time to get his act together.
5.Jermaine Blackwood: His brilliant performances against England — a brilliant century in Antigua — makes him a candidate at the No.5 position. An aggressive batsman, he can score quickly and put the opposition under strife.
6. Shane Dowrich (wk): The Barbadian has been one of the top runs-scorers for the West Indies in Test cricket over the last two years. His century against England in his hometown Barbados last year was instrumental in West Indies winning that match.
7. Jason Holder (captain): The No.1 all-rounder in world cricket, the West Indies captain has been performing the dual roles along with leading the side quite admirably. Simply put, he is their M.V.P.
8. Rahkeem Cornwall: The off-spinner lends variety to the bowling attack that boasts of a potent pace attack. In the two Tests, Cornwall, with his huge frame, has shown the ability to extract bounce from the most placid tracks.
9. Alzarri Joseph: The 23-year-old has still not hit his peak. Nevertheless, in his limited outings, he has done enough to impress everyone with his pace and mental fortitude.
10. Shannon Gabriel: The Trinidadian pacer has recovered from his ankle injury and will be sharing the new ball with Kemar Roach.
11. Kemar Roach: The leader of West Indies attack, Roach has the experience and the skill-set to trouble the best batsmen. England will not have fond memories of Roach — he was the reason why they lost the series in 2019 — working up frightening pace and prising out 18 scalps.
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