St. JOHN’s, Antigua and Barbuda – West Indies face England in a three-match one-day series starting Friday under pressure to reverse a run of poor form that could see them facing the indignity of having to qualify for the next World Cup in 2019.
The top eight teams in the International Cricket Council ODI rankings at the end of September 2017 automatically advance to the event in England. The West Indies — struggling in ninth spot three points behind Pakistan and a further two adrift of Bangladesh –- have only this series, a return duel in England in September and, critically, three matches against Pakistan in the Caribbean in April to make the cut.
England have no such concerns as hosts of both the World Cup and the next Champions Trophy in June, for which the West Indies failed to qualify.
England’s brand of ultra-aggressive limited-over cricket since the disappointment of the 2105 World Cup, where they failed to get past the group stage, makes them favourites to extend their domination of the home team.
West Indies’ last victory in a head-to-head series was in 2007 in England under the leadership of Chris Gayle, one of several prominent players now ruled ineligible for regional representative duty due to commitments to lucrative T20 franchise tournaments around the world.
Both teams are coming off series losses, the West Indies failing to advance to the final of a three-nation tournament in Zimbabwe last November that also involved Sri Lanka, and England falling to India in January after being thrashed in the preceding Test series at the end of 2016.
Notwithstanding the favourites’ tag, the English will also be wary of the conditions as well as the opposition following contrasting victories in two warm-up matches against what was effectively a West Indies second-string outfit in St Kitts.
While most of the frontline batsmen were able to get decent scores in a commanding performance on Saturday, they laboured on the same pitch at Warner Park two days later, eking out a two-wicket win after the middle-order stuttered against the spinners.
With the surface at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound expected to be of a similar nature, West Indies are likely to play both frontline slow bowlers, Devendra Bishoo and Ashley Nurse.
England, who have summoned Tom Curran from the Lions tour of Sri Lanka to replace fast-medium bowler Jake Ball -– an injury casualty from the second warm-up match -– are likely to counter with Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid seeking to exploit a dry, wearing pitch.
West Indies cricket’s ongoing disputes involving premier players continues as batsman Dwayne Bravo, who publicly disparaged West Indies Cricket Board president Dave Cameron via Twitter last November and was subsequently withdrawn from the tour of Zimbabwe, is not being considered for selection until he submits a formal apology.
England have no such issues to contend with and will have a batting line-up at full strength with the exception of Alex Hales, who has recuperated well enough from injury sustained in India but will not be considered for selection for the two matches in Antigua. He is however likely to be in the frame for the series finale in Barbados on March 9.
West Indies: Jason Holder (captain), Kieran Powell, Evin Lewis, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shai Hope (wicketkeeper), Jason Mohammed, Rovman Powell, Carlos Brathwaite, Ashley Nurse, Devendra Bishoo, Shannon Gabriel.
England: Eoin Morgan (captain), Jason Roy, Sam Billings, Joe Root, Jos Buttler (wicketkeeper), Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett, Steven Finn.