On the eve of the second Test at Old Trafford, England and Wales Cricket Board tweeted a collage of photographs of Joe Root from the training session with the caption: “Welcome back skip!” England will be heaving a huge sigh of relief to have their incumbent captain back in action. Root had missed the series opener at Southampton as he was on a paternity break. The 29-year-old’s return will bolster the home team’s wafer-thin batting resources. Not surprisingly, it will once again boil down to how England’s batsmen cope up with the potent West Indies pace attack. There was grim news coming from the England camp after Jofra Archer was dropped for the second Test for breaching the bio-secure protocols. According to an ECB release, “Archer will commence five days of self-isolation and will undergo two Covid-19 tests, which will have to test negative before his quarantine is lifted.”
Here’s predicting their possible playing XI and the challenges they face.
Rory Burns: The left-handed opener comes to Old Trafford as England’s second-most experienced batsman after Joe Root. The team management will be hoping that he quells the West Indies pacers. For that to happen though, he needs to cash in on his starts and not throw it away like he did in the second innings in Southampton.
Dom Sibley: These are still early days in his international career. The half-century in the second innings in Southampton would have eased his frayed nerves. Jason Holder and Co will look to exploit Sibley’s weakness against the short, incoming deliveries aimed at his rib cage.
Joe Root (c): England captain’s return will surely shore up the home team’s batting. Root comes in place of Joe Denly.
Zak Crawley: Like Sibley, Crawley would have found his verve and confidence after his splendid second innings act in Southampton where he scored a stroke-filled 76. However, his technique is still wonky against the moving Dukes ball. England’s No.4 batsman will need to watch out for that sharp incoming delivery aimed at his pads that makes him a readymade candidate for lbws.
Ben Stokes: There was much to admire in the manner in which Ben Stokes led England in Southampton. He was aggressive, intuitive and led from the front with both bat and ball. Too bad, his inept batsmen failed to stand up to be counted. In Manchester, the mercurial all-rounder will be more than happy to let Root make all the important decisions, while he steps back to focus on his personal performances.
Ollie Pope: Don’t go by his twin failures in Southampton.The 22-year-old is a bright prospect, so much so that he has been earmarked as the batsman for the future. At Old Trafford, Root might just push him up the order so that he gets more time to find his groove.
Jos Buttler (wk): He had a pretty tough outing in Southampton — failing with the bat and dropping a straight forward catch off Jermaine Blackwood. Since then, there’s been a clamour for his ouster from England’s Test team. Buttler can only shut critics if he dishes out a typical counter-attacking innings at Old Trafford that he is known for.
Sam Curran: Sam Curran’s inclusion at the No.8 spot bolsters England’s batting line-up to a fair degree. As a left-arm swing bowler, he will also give this attack the much-needed variety.
Dom Bess: The young off-spinner gave a very good account of himself in Southampton and should retain his spot in the playing XI in Old Trafford. Like Curran, his batting lower down the order will give England the balance.
Stuart Broad: The experienced England pacer with 485 Test scalps will get an opportunity this summer to reiterate that oft-repeated cliche — he is still one of the best bowlers in English conditions. The Old Trafford pitch — quicker than the one in Southampton — will be conducive to his style of bowling. There was a lot of hue and cry over Broad’s exclusion from the first Test. The team management, however, are playing it smart by rotating their fast bowlers through the course of this summer. Hence, Broad gets a look in at the expense of his new-ball partner Jimmy Anderson.
Mark Wood: The pacer bowled well in patches in Southampton, but looks poised to make the cut for the second Test after Jofra Archer was excluded from the squad for breaching the team’s bio-secure protocols.
John Campbell: A searing yorker from Archer left the West Indies opener with a bruised toe in Southampton. Campbell, though, should be fit for this encounter.
Kraigg Brathwaite: Kraigg Brathwaithe looked in fairly good touch in Southampton. However, he would do well to show a little more intent rather than retreat under a shell and allow England’s pacers to dictate the proceedings.
Shamarh Brooks: Brooks is an elegant player, possessing all the shots in his arsenal. In Southampton, he was a delight to watch with his dreamy drives. Jason Holder would be hoping that he converts his starts into big match-winning knocks.
Shai Hope: His talent was never in question. But someting seems to be amiss with Shai Hope these days. Runs seems to be coming in a trickle and his splendid heist in Headingley against England seemed to have come ages ago. Hope has the backing of his captain. “Going into a Test series you want to give a player as much confidence as you possibly can. I don’t look at whether you want to drop and select somebody else. You’ve got a core group of guys which you give added confidence and boost to in order for them to go and perform,” Holder had said.
Roston Chase: The all-rounder lends balance to this side. He is a pretty competent middle-order batsman, as illustrated in the manner he very nearly warded off a fiery spell from Jofra Archer on Day 5 in Southampton. He is also a very useful off-spinner.
Jermaine Blackwood: His match-winning knock of 95 showed that Jermaine Blackwood has the potential to surive of the rigours of long-form cricket. At Old Trafford, he needs to continue his good form and provide West Indies with the solidity in the lower middle-order
Shane Dowrich (wk): Apart from being a fine keeper and a useful batsman, Shane Dowrich is also an astute reader of the game. Not surprising why captain Holder always consults him before making any contentious calls.
Jason Holder (c): The man with the Midas Touch, Holder is enjoying a purple patch in his international career. From his precision-laden seam bowling to his batting, backed by his leadership skills, he can do no wrong at the moment. Once again, he will play a huge role in galvanising his team in the second Test. What he needs to guard against is complacency that may have crept into the ranks following their historic win in Southampton.
Alzarri Joseph: The slow Southampton pitch may not have been to his liking, but Alzarri Joseph will relish the prospect of bowling at Old Trafford that offers more pace and bounce.
Shannon Gabriel: He was the best fast bowler on view, touching 90mph with ease, getting prodigious bounce and swing. The team management will be hoping that Gabriel reprises his match-winning act in the second Test.
Kemar Roach: He bowled his heart out in Southampton, but did not have anything to show in the wickets column. Given his wealth of experience, it would be difficult to look past Kemar Roach. Although, there would be a temptation to blood in the young Oshane Thomas for this match.
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