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Series drought, pandemic overshadow Windies quest

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

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SOUTHAMPTON, England (CMC) — A 32-year-old series drought on English soil and the first global pandemic in one hundred years will serve as the daunting backdrop when West Indies clash with the hosts in a much-anticipated opening Test of world cricket's first-ever biosecure series, starting here today.

Viv Richards' star-studded unit was the last West Indies side to earn success here when they thrashed England 4-0 in a five-Test series in 1988. Fast bowler Shannon Gabriel, the oldest member of the current West Indies side, was only three months old.

Since then West Indies have struggled for results in England, emphasised by their lone win in their last 16 Tests here in as many years.

Their bid to end that disappointing run has been made no easier with the series being staged amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak which has caused 286,000 infections and resulted in 44,000 deaths in the United Kingdom alone.

To mitigate against the threat of the virus, the three-Test series is being played behind closed doors at biosecure venues and players have been isolated from the public for the duration of the tour.

Strict sanitisation and social distancing protocols have been employed at stadia. For instance, using saliva on the ball has been prohibited along with celebratory hugs, high-fives and handshakes at the toss, while players must use their own water bottles.

The series, however novel, will mark the return of international cricket to the global itinerary ever since COVID-19 forced a cessation of the game in March, but Captain Jason Holder said West Indies' motivation and hunger had not been impacted by the changes.

“The mood in the camp is very good; the guys are really excited to get back on the field. It's been a while since we've played international cricket so everybody is really relishing the opportunity,” Holder told reporters yesterday via Zoom.

“We've had four solid weeks of preparation and I think the guys have worked really hard to get themselves back up to match fitness, and I think more or less it's the green light to go now.

“Everyone has been talking about it for the last couple weeks and most of the guys are just awaiting the first ball to be delivered.”

He continued: “I am excited. Everyone is excited. We were sat up at home for a couple months and we haven't been doing what we've been accustomed to doing for years, so I think it's a really positive moment for cricket.

“I've been watching the football on TV. Formula One is just about to kick back in and there's been a bit of horse racing here and there, and golf.

“It's been a bit different but I guess after a period of time people would become accustomed to this new norm. It is what it is and we're all just finding ways to cope with it.”

Pandemic aside, West Indies face a formidable challenge in keeping their hold on the prestigious Wisden Trophy, which they captured so impressively in the Caribbean last year with a stunning win in a three-Test series.

Then, England found themselves outplayed away from home but in their conditions, boast an impressive home record of not having lost a series in six years.

Holder, who oversaw last year's triumph, said West Indies were under no illusions about the size of the task before them.

“I think cricket has to be played on the day. What I would say is that England are probably favourites in their home conditions,” the top-ranked all-rounder in Tests pointed out.

“They are a very, very strong side in their home conditions and it's proven. They've got a really good track record at home so we've got our work cut out if we want to beat England.

“England are not just going to roll over and die. They're gonna come at us very, very hard and those guys want to win just as badly as we do so I really expect a keen contest and it's a matter for us to dethrone England in their own backyard — which is not going to be easy for us.”

West Indies enter The Ageas Bowl Test energised by a strike force that is expected to feature a four-pronged pace attack. But concerns linger over their batting, which has struggled in recent time to scale the heights required.

Main opener Kraigg Brathwaite has averaged 21 from his last 15 Tests inside the last two years, Shai Hope has averaged 20 from 14 matches during the same period while Roston Chase, once a linchpin, has averaged 25 from his last 12 Tests.

And with left-handed opener John Campbell and Shamarh Brooks having played just nine Tests between them, it has underscored the need for a massive effort from the batting order and Holder was quick to reiterate the importance of the whole team pulling their weight.

“Based on the recent past of our fast bowlers doing really well — they're obviously experienced as well, too — and if we can definitely get the runs on the board [it will augur well for us],” Holder said.

“And it doesn't have to only come from the top order. We're putting a lot of emphasis on the top order and yes, they probably haven't lived up to the expectations but it's still a team sport. We've just got to put runs on the board.

“However we get them, personally I don't care. It's just a matter for us to put the runs on the board and make our bowlers have something to work with.”

The match bowls off at 11:00 am (6:00 am Eastern Caribbean time).


WEST INDIES – Jason Holder (captain), Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shamarh Brooks, John Campbell, Roston Chase, Rahkeem Cornwall, Shane Dowrich, Shannon Gabriel, Chemar Holder, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach

ENGLAND – Ben Stokes (captain), James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Dominic Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Joe Denly, Ollie Pope, Dom Sibley, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

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