After a brief interlude which many of the players involed spent playing (or bench-warming) in the IPL, England and the West Indies go toe-to-toe for the second time this year with the Test series starting tomorrow. The Windies, of course, were hastily lined up as replacements for first Zimbabwe (who were banned from touring the UK for political reasons) and then Sri Lanka (who decided they preferred the IPL millions and to getting rained on in May in the UK), but have proven themselves formidable opponents for England, winning the series in the carribbean after a memorably awful performance from the English batting order.
For the hosts, thoughts are already drifting towards this summer’s Ashes series, and many of the squad will be looking to stake their claim for a spot in the side to face Australia. Ravi Bopara gets his chance at number three, on the grounds that everyone else is either too young, too old or too rubbish. Tim Bresnan and Graham Onions are the other new faces as Andy Flowers tries to liven things up a bit. The absence of Flintoff means there will be opportunities to shine for the young bowlers, but it will take something special to guarantee an Ashes place.
The West Indies haven’t had the best of preparation, being soundly beaten by the England Lions in the absence of their captain (who seemingly shares the Sri Lankan’s preference for the IPL over the UK), but their performances over the winter will have brought encouragement. As ever, Gayle and Chanderpaul are the danger men, but the likes of Fidel Edwards and Sulieman Benn also gave England plenty to worry about last time around.
Anything less than a series victory for the hosts will be seen as catastrophic, but catastrophe has befallen England so often recently that it’s difficult to rule out another abject failure from the home team.