Real cricket finally returns to our screens when England and West Indies lock horns in the first Test at Lord’s on Thursday. ANT SIMS looks ahead to what awaits the visitors and... there’s nothing but bad news.
For the deluded romantic, there is no greater prospect of an underdog tale than the upcoming England against West Indies series. An embattled team, apparently caught in political crossfire between islands, a team which has struggled to find its identity since it fell from grace when its star players retired against the self-proclaimed custodians of the game, the number-one-ranked team in the world with an overbearing pompous aura to boot.
The ways to sugarcoat saying the West Indies are torrid are running out and for the realists another one-sided contest beckons, just in time to butter up the English with more of their own horn tooting before South Africa arrive on their shores in July. On paper, it should be a walk in the park for Andrew Strauss and Co. Knowing the English weather, it might be a walk with umbrellas and rubber boots, but a walk in the park nonetheless.
Darren Sammy's West Indies side last won a Test series against Bangladesh. Since December 2003, the Windies have played 80 Tests and managed to win just eight, losing 45. In contrast, England have played 107, won 50 and lost 27. It’s not really the kind of record which inspires hope of a good, competitive contest.
While there have been flashes of promise and even hints of brilliance from the West Indies in the past few months, it’s hard to imagine that they’ll be able to blow England away, especially at fortress Lord’s.
Their warm-up games left much to be desired. The game against Sussex was drawn after rain ruined the party and the tour match against the England Lions saw the hosts grab a mammoth 10-wicket win. The Windies stuttered in their first innings, with only Darren Bravo managing a score of significance, scoring 51. Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul and Kemar Roach all had decent contributions with the ball, though, and the second innings was a much better effort from the visitors, but it wasn't enough to keep the Lions at bay.
The days of cool and swagger have long passed for the West Indies and, whereas many would love to trumpet the dawning of a new era, the trumpet probably needs to be cleaned, primed and polished a few times first, yet Sammy believes his side is on the right track.
“The only thing that has not been happening is the victories,” the West Indies captain said.
“We've been playing good, competitive cricket against strong sides like India and Australia and all our Tests have been going five days and down to the wire. Not many teams go to India and give India a run for their money, but we did that.
“Coming from where we are right now, we are not going to start winning straight away. We are taking baby steps to the ultimate goal. We are playing well and dominating teams throughout matches.
“The problem is that we keep losing key moments in matches. One bad session keeps costing us. Champion teams seize the moment but we keep having a bad session where we might lose five wickets in an hour. We just need to cut that out. Once we eliminate those bad sessions then we'll make progress.”
West Indies will need more than just cutting out bad sessions for them to have a fighting chance against England.
In the last 20 matches England have played at Lord's, they've lost only two – one against South Africa and one against Australia. The games they won were all by massive margins, an innings and 261 runs, 10 wickets, and so forth. The Windies last won a Test at Lord's in the 1980s, when Viv Richards, Curtley Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall and Courtney Walsh were still playing.
They’ve won just four of their 19 matches played here and during their last outing at the ground, they were thoroughly walloped by 10 wickets and, just to rub salt in their wounds, Kemar Roach, Ravi Rampaul and Fidel Edwards all complained of slight injury niggles on Monday. It’s expected that they should all be fit to play come Thursday, though, but losing their lead quicks is the last thing they need.
The visitors have their backs right up against the wall and it’ll take a minor miracle for them to walk away from the first Test unscarred. England will be licking their lips at the proverbial victory feast laid out before them.
However, gluttony often leads to an embarrassing trip to the bathroom and those who like to indulge in a little schadenfreude will be hoping the feast is tainted with a little bit of E.coli. Who knows, if you wish hard enough and kiss the badge on your IPL shirt three times, it just might be. DM
Players to watch
Darren Bravo – since he first made his appearance, the young Bravo has been touted as “the next Brian Lara” and, while there are some eerie statistical resemblances between the two, Bravo has struggled to live up to the hype. But he has managed to emulate Lara’s trademark “throw your head back in disappointment when you lose your wicket”. Bravo did well in the warm-ups, scoring 51 in the first innings against the England Lions and 57 in the second. The 23-year old leftie might have finally found some confidence.
Kevin Pietersen – the former South African has been in scintillating form. In fact, the switch-hit pioneer says he’s never batted better. South African fans would love to see KP do well, if for no other reason than to hope he gets it out of his system before the Proteas’ visit to Blighty later this year.
In the history of these two teams playing each other in England, West Indies hold the largest victory margin at Lord's. They beat England by an innings and 226 runs in August 1973. Garry Sobers scored an unbeaten 150 in the first innings as the Windies posted a mammoth 652-8 before declaring and the Windies skittled England out twice, with Keith Boyce being the pick of the bowlers, bagging eight scalps in the match. West Indies won the series 2-0.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul is the 9th highest run-getter in the series and the only one in the top 10 still playing cricket. He's notched up 2,124 runs in 31 matches at an average of 44.83.
Photo: West Indies' captain Darren Sammy has his leg treated by physiotherapist CJ Clark during a training session, before their first cricket test match against England on Thursday, at Lord's cricket ground in London May 15, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown.