Mark Wood‘s World Cup hopes remain in the balance with three days to go until England’s opening fixture against South Africa at The Oval, despite optimistic signals from within the England camp.
The results of the precautionary scan on Wood’s troublesome left ankle have not yet been revealed, after he opted to leave the field midway through his bowling spell in England’s warm-up fixture against Australia at the Ageas Bowl on Saturday, rather than risk further aggravation.
Although Wood himself is understood to be feeling more confident of a full recovery after 24 hours of rest, privately, England still fear that a joint that has been the source of endless disruption to Wood’s career could have flared up once again at the most inopportune moment imaginable.
Wood has bowled just 13.1 overs in the English season to date, after his return to action for Durham in the Royal London Cup was thwarted by consecutive washed-out matches. However, he bowled with pace and hostility in his solitary ODI against Pakistan earlier this month, regularly touching 90mph en route to figures of 2 for 71.
The entire England World Cup squad gathered in central London this morning to take part in the Ruth Strauss Foundation Westminster Mile, the inaugural charity event in memory of the wife of the former England captain, Andrew Strauss, who died of cancer in December.
The entire group walked the mile, with the exception of Wood, who rested during the event, and Ben Stokes, who chose to jog the mile with his son and wife.
England’s World Cup party was reduced to such bare bones in the midst of their Australia fixture that the fielding coach, Paul Collingwood, who turned 43 today, was pressed into action as a substitute fielder.
However, there should be a fuller complement of players to choose from in Monday’s second warm-up against Afghanistan, which takes place at The Oval.
Adil Rashid, who has been nursing a shoulder injury, was fit to bowl in the nets at The Oval, under the supervision of the bowling coach, Chris Silverwood, and a decision on whether he takes part in the match will be made in the morning.
Joe Root, who missed the Australia game following the death of his grandfather (but took the field as a substitute fielder) is likely to play, alongside Jofra Archer, who also caused England some alarm when he jarred his leg while fielding in the same game.
Liam Dawson, who split the skin on his right ring finger, is likely to be rested while the wound heals fully, while Chris Woakes – who played as a specialist batsman against Australia – is likely to have his first bowl since the Pakistan series.
Meanwhile Eoin Morgan, the captain, is making encouraging progress following the “flake fracture” to his index finger that forced him out of the Australia match. He is expected to be sufficiently fit to take part in the World Cup opener, but may choose to rest against Afghanistan as well.
Match Preview – England vs West Indies, ICC World Test Championship 2020, 1st Test
And so it re-begins. Test Cricket, the Awakening. Live from the locked-down environs of the Ageas Bowl, in a sterile world of fist-bump greetings and exam-room-style mealtimes. Where the players go through their daily routines with the detached immersion of astronauts in the International Space Station, and where Mark Wood belts out Jerusalem from the top of the pavilion like nobody’s watching. Because nobody is. Apart from a handful of support staff, media representatives, hotel-workers, security personnel … and a global cricket-starved audience of millions, for whom this through-the-keyhole experience marks the beginning of the end of the most extraordinary hiatus in most people’s living memory.
Test cricket is back, though perhaps not quite as we have known it. It was 115 days ago in Colombo that England abandoned their final warm-up game against Sri Lanka Board President’s XI and legged it for the airport to beat the closure of the world’s borders. One day earlier, Barbados – the island that provides nine of the 15 players in West Indies’ senior squad – completed their rout of Guyana in the regional Championship, bowling the hosts out for 55 and 94 in consecutive innings at Providence, with Kemar Roach, their man of the moment, claiming nine in the match.
And then, overnight, it all went quiet, as a world of YouTube nostalgia and disembodied Zoom punditry emerged from the wreckage of the world game’s plans, as boards licked their wounds and counted their costs – most notably the ECB, who stood to lose an estimated £380 million if the entire summer of 2020, their year of new endeavours, was written off without a ball being bowled. And who could have imagined such a debasement of opportunity this time last year, when the 2019 World Cup was just a week away from that unsurpassable moment of crescendo, and when Ian Botham’s heroics in 1981 were still the only Ashes Test truly synonymous with Headingley?
And in light of all that, the ECB deserve, and have received, huge credit for getting this show on the road. In creating and sustaining a series of bio-secure environments – at the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford in the first instance, and more recently at Derby and Worcester where Pakistan’s preparations for the August Tests are taking shape – they’ve provided a “blueprint” as Phil Simmons, West Indies’ coach put it on Monday, for how other boards might hope to get their own schedules back up and running in the teeth of a pandemic. Not least Australia, whose own season suddenly seems in renewed jeopardy as Melbourne goes back into lockdown.
But the greatest kudos to date belongs to West Indies, an intrepid squad of tourists who suppressed whatever anxieties they might have had, and agreed to leave the relatively Covid-free islands of the Caribbean to embark on a two-month stint in one of the most prominently afflicted countries on earth. Touring life can be solitary and isolating at the best of times, let alone the worst of them, when you are a prisoner in your hotel room at night, and beholden to the rhythms of the gym and the nets by day. While no criticism can be attached to the three players who chose not to come, the true wonder is that more were not tempted to sit this out too.
And yet the squad has displayed focus and resolve in their preparations to date – they’ve brushed off the distractions that followed the sad death of Simmons’ father-in-law and the cruel criticism of his attendance of the funeral, and quietly embraced the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement, a cause that both sides will acknowledge with both a logo on their shirt collars and a gesture before the match, but one that, by its very nature, courses through the proud history of Caribbean cricket and surely will not prove to be anything other than an inspiration.
In terms of their actual preparations, West Indies’ batting may have been a concern in two intra-squad warm-up games, but the same sweaty-toothed bowling attack that shredded England in Barbados and Antigua in early 2019 has been firing from the get-go. They are the holders of the Wisden Trophy, and they’ve got enough proud memories of both that series and of their miraculous run-chase at Headingley in 2017 to know that they’ll enter this contest with a puncher’s chance. Particularly against an England side shorn of their captain, Joe Root, through paternity leave, and therefore set to field one of their least experienced top sixes in more than 40 years.
ALSO READ: ‘Do it your way’ – Root’s message to Stokes
That’s not to say that England’s batting is notably weak – somewhat to the contrary, in fact. Their last significant cricket came in South Africa in December and January, where Ollie Pope and the newly sylph-like Dom Sibley produced break-out performances, and where Zak Crawley confirmed his own rich promise in a series of unflappable displays after Rory Burns had damaged his ankle playing football.
With Root to return at Old Trafford, and Essex’s next big thing Dan Lawrence waiting in the wings, there’s a sudden competition for places that could scarcely have seemed credible in the latter months of Trevor Bayliss’s white-ball-focussed reign, when the desire not to upset the tempos of England’s unfettered World Cup wallopers seemed to override all other considerations. And on that note, it was revealing how this band of players chose not to make a game of last week’s intra-squad match – a chase of 98 off 96 balls in the final session might well have been on, especially with Ben Stokes still in the middle, but given what Roach did to England’s positive intent in Barbados last year, it probably wouldn’t have been the ideal mindset to cultivate.
Whatever occurs in the coming days, however, this match will constitute a journey into the unknown, even if more aspects of the daily tussle will be familiar than you might assume at first glance. After all, it’s not as though playing in front of empty stadiums will be a complete novelty for the grand old format – anyone who’s ever watched a five-day game in Dubai, for instance, will know that sterile environments were a factor in cricket long before they became a requisite.
But the fixed-camera images that were beamed out of the Ageas Bowl last week during England’s three-day warm-up gave us a clue as to what to expect. In particular, the prevalence of headbands among England’s fast bowlers will be a reminder of the new obligations in play for this series – sweat, not saliva, will be the connoisseur’s choice for ball-shining. And no matter how many flashing boundary hoardings, and fully operational replay screens, and booming PA announcements the organisers choose to bring to the show, the other-worldliness this week will be tangible, even if the players on display will not.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies WLLLW
In the spotlight
This time last year, Ben Stokes was gearing up for the biggest month of his career (on the field at least, given how close he must have felt to losing everything when West Indies were last in England for a bilateral series). His extraordinary displays, first in the World Cup final against New Zealand, and then in partnership with Jack Leach at Headingley, propelled him to a rare echelon among England cricketers, a status that was confirmed when he was named as the runaway winner of BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Like the rest of us, he could hardly have predicted how 2020 would pan out. But he can’t have imagined either that he’d end up leading England in their first home Test of the season. There’s no doubt he commands huge respect in what is temporarily his dressing-room – Sibley named him as a key inspiration for his renewed fitness drive during lockdown – and as a pure batsman he is among the finest in contemporary Test cricket. There’s no reason why he cannot thrive in the short term in the role, just as Andrew Flintoff did in India in 2006, when he led from the front with the bat in particular. Whether he ought to be a candidate for the honours longer-term, the jury will remain out. But he won’t be short of support on the field, even if the void in the stands deprives him of some of the adrenalin on which he so clearly thrives.
His old class-mate Carlos may be the Brathwaite whose name is truly remembered for his feats in the World T20 final, but Kraigg Brathwaite is the potential kingpin of a batting line that craves some solidity in what will surely be a bowler-dominated series. His form has rather fallen off a cliff since those twin scores of 134 and 95 underpinned that famous win in Leeds three years ago, and he was a subdued presence in the home series last year. But natural-born nuggets are a rare breed in modern Test cricket, and if he can reprise the form that has earned him eight centuries in 59 Tests to date, he’ll go a long way towards giving his quicks a chance to get stuck in. A top score of 84 in the intra-squad fixtures suggests that he’s had enough time in the middle to get his game in a good working order.
England’s 13-man squad has locked in its batting at least. In the absence of Root, and with Stokes stepping up as captain, Joe Denly holds his place at No. 3 – he constitutes a senior statesman in an otherwise callow line-up – with Zak Crawley pencilled in at No. 4 ahead of Lawrence, whose time will surely come before long. As for the balance of the bowling, Stokes admitted it was a “head-scratcher”, albeit a good problem to have. The balance, as ever, hinges on the enduring excellence of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, a pair for which England have been making succession plans for almost as long as their partnership has endured. The temptation to pitch Jofra Archer and Mark Wood together in Tests for the first time will be overwhelming, and the likelihood is that Broad – and Chris Woakes – will be the men to miss out.
England (possible): 1 Rory Burns, 2 Dom Sibley, 3 Joe Denly, 4 Zak Crawley, 5 Ben Stokes (capt), 6 Ollie Pope, 7 Jos Buttler (wk), 8 Dom Bess, 9 Jofra Archer, 10 Stuart Broad/Mark Wood, 11 James Anderson.
Jason Holder says he will leave his final XI to the “last minute”, presumably with the possibility of the spinner Rahkeem Cornwall stepping into a pace-dominated line-up. The batting will hinge on Holder’s own presence, muted though it was in the warm-ups, as well as the experience of Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope, the central figures in that epic 2017 win. Roston Chase, who also claimed eight wickets with his spin in the Barbados win, will compete with Jermaine Blackwood in the middle order. After an injury scare, Shane Dowrich is expected to hold off Joshua Da Silva as wicketkeeper, despite the latter’s assured century in the warm-ups.
West Indies (probable): 1 John Campbell, 2 Kraigg Brathwaite, 3 Shamarh Brooks, 4 Shai Hope, 5 Roston Chase/Jermaine Blackwood, 6 Shane Dowrich (wk), 7 Jason Holder (capt), 8 Rahkeem Cornwall, 9 Alzarri Joseph, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Shannon Gabriel.
Pitch and conditions
Whisper it, but the weather for the coming week is not the scorching heatwave that most of the country had been basking during the locked-down part of the summer. Regular showers could punctuate the contest, and a further unknown will lie in the make-up of the Ageas Bowl wicket. While it might ordinarily be a groundsman’s dream to have an entire summer to nurture your turf without any pesky cricketers digging their studs into it, for Simon Lee, newly appointed by Hampshire after 18 years at Taunton, he might conceivably have preferred a few county games to get fully acquainted with his loam. The deck for England’s warm-up was undoubtedly on the slow side. A bit more carry for the main event would doubtless please the quicks on both teams.
Stats and trivia
The Ageas Bowl will be hosting its fourth Test match since its debut staging in 2011, and its first against West Indies. Previous opponents have been Sri Lanka and India (twice).
After going past 100 Test wickets in West Indies’ last home Test, against India in Jamaica last summer, Jason Holder needs 102 runs to reach 2000 in Test cricket – a feat that only Sir Garfield Sobers and Carl Hooper have previously achieved for West Indies.
Ben Stokes, standing in for Joe Root, will become the 81st man to captain England in Test cricket.
An England victory would be their 50th in Tests against West Indies in 158 Tests. West Indies have won 57 of their previous contests, with 51 draws.
Kemar Roach needs seven more wickets to become the first West Indian fast bowler since Curtly Ambrose to reach 200 in Tests.
If Broad is omitted from the final XI, it will bring to an end a run of 51 consecutive home Test appearances, dating back to the Edgbaston Test against West Indies in 2012. Ironically both he and Anderson were rested for that match, a dead rubber.
“I haven’t had much advice but there’s been a lot of opinions flying around. But the best message I’ve received was when I got my photos done yesterday in my blazer. Rooty left a message on my hanger, saying ‘do it your way’.”
Ben Stokes takes up the captain’s mantel with some sound advice from his absent team-mate
“Ben’s always being talked up and quite rightly so, he’s a really good cricketer, but the rankings say I’m the No.1-ranked allrounder, so I maybe don’t get as much credit as I probably deserve. Who knows?”
Jason Holder has a quiet word about his understated abilities
Jason Holder: ‘I’ve still got a massive contribution to make with the bat’
Holder had dismissed Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope before lunch in a probing spell that left England reeling at 87 for 5, but after a loose start to the afternoon session, Stokes and Jos Buttler looked as though they might be getting away from West Indies with a counter-attacking partnership. Stokes had been put down twice – once by Kemar Roach, running round from long leg, and the other a simple chance that Shamarh Brooks shelled at short cover – when Holder came back into the attack after the break, which he described as a “pivotal moment” in the match.
“It was a big wicket to get,” Holder said. “Stokesy was looking quite set. We put down two chances and he was looking to make us pay for them. When I came on, his partnership with Jos was starting to blossom, and it was important to break that partnership quickly and not let it materialise into something that could really hurt us.
“I just wanted to be really consistent to him. He was pretty settled and countering the line that we were bowling by walking across and walking down. I was getting just enough movement there to keep him at bay, and I wanted to keep him playing.”
Stokes had used his feet in an exaggerated manner throughout his innings, regularly taking two big strides down the pitch or shuffling across to cover his stumps, and Holder said that it was crucial that his bowlers were not thrown off by his movement.
“He was just trying to offset our lines, and a little bit on our lengths too,” he explained. “I think he was trying to get outside the off stump, and force us to either bowl at his pads or to take the ball wider so he could leave.
“We were pretty much getting the ball to shape away, but I just wanted our bowlers not to leave the stumps and force him to play off the front foot. The pitch didn’t really have enough zip for us to be consistently bowling short, and when you bowl short at him, you take more modes of dismissal out of the equation. Yes, he did top-edge a pull, but for me that was more of a length ball that he really didn’t get on top of from Alzarri – and Alzarri has that pace that he can definitely put him back.
“So I just wanted our bowlers not to get thrown off by it, but to keep him playing. One of the criticisms I had with our bowlers yesterday was that we maybe didn’t make England play enough, but I think today we did a much better job in making them play, and obviously we got the results.”
Holder had rallied his troops just as Stokes and Buttler started to get away from them, and he admitted his frustrations that they had been able to score on both sides of the wicket. Throughout the tour he has preached the importance of discipline among his bowlers, and said he was delighted that they had managed to stem the flow of runs and find breakthroughs as a result.
“That was a pivotal moment, because they were starting to score, and they were scoring on both sides of the wicket. One of the things that we always focus on is not to let to opposition score on both sides of the wicket, and we had to be disciplined – we weren’t disciplined enough after the lunch break.
“I wanted the guys to get back on it. Shannon [Gabriel], I gave him a quick burst but it didn’t work the way we wanted. So for me, my role was just to come in and not look for wickets but to challenge their techniques and be disciplined. I think once I go into those areas long enough, more often than not you’re going to get the results you’re looking for.”
His performance was perhaps all the more remarkable on account of the lack of overs he had bowled so far on the tour. He had managed only five across the two intra-squad warm-ups while nursing an ankle complaint, and admitted that he felt “a bit sore” after getting through 20 on the second day. “Leading up into the Test match I hadn’t got the overs I wanted under my belt,” he said. “Maybe that helped me to be fresh?”
Holder wondered on the eve of the Test whether he got the credit he deserved as an allrounder, not least in comparison to Stokes, his opposite number in this match. On Thursday, he admitted that he had “soaked in” the adulation for his performance, but insisted that his job in the match was not even half-done.
“My Test match is far from over,” he said. “I’ve still got a massive contribution to make with the bat, and that’s where my focus is going to be channelled now in this innings. One of the things I’ve always strived to do… was to score a hundred in England and to take a five-wicket haul here. I’ve ticked one box so far, so I guess it’s now left for me to knuckle down and try to get a hundred.”
Five overturned lbw appeals (and one that stuck)
It was a tough day in the field for Richard Kettleborough and Richard Illingworth, both umpiring an England Test for the first time due to Covid-enforced changes to ICC regulations. In England’s innings, three times Kettleborough declined West Indies lbw appeals, only to have them overturned on review; then, when the tourists batted, Illingworth twice gave opener John Campbell out, but for DRS to grant a reprieve.
25.4 Gabriel to Burns, OUT Flung down full, there’s a couple of noises as the ball thuds into the pad… was it heading leg side? West Indies call for a review, and this could be close. No bat involved, was just the toe scraping the ground, and Burns had moved right in front of his poles. Hawk-Eye has it smashing leg stump! Gabriel gets his third, England on a wobble. Test cricket, how we’ve missed you!
RJ Burns lbw b Gabriel 30 (126m 85b 4×4 0x6) SR: 35.29
33.1 Holder to Crawley, OUT After teasing Crawley with outswingers, Holder ventures wide of the crease and pings the front pad by bringing this one back in. The batsman falls over and is in trouble. Not given out lbw, but Holder opts to challenge the on-field out decision. This looks close. Beats the inside edge and thuds into the pad in line with middle. Impact in line, hitting leg stump. Crawley has to go and another fine review from Holder and WI
Z Crawley lbw b JO Holder 10 (51m 26b 2×4 0x6) SR: 38.46
57.4 Holder to Archer, OUT Another West Indies review for lbw, after Holder speared one into Archer’s front pad… Could be tight again, Richard Kettleborough having declined the original appeal. Delivered from quite wide on the crease, but this looks to be troubling leg stump. Yep, demolishing leg, Holder has five! Excellent use of the DRS, and the net is tightening around England
JC Archer lbw b JO Holder 0 (9m 6b 0x4 0x6) SR: 0.00
6.6 Anderson to Campbell, no run Finds the length, straightens to hit the back leg… and up goes the finger! Campbell was looking to drive, beaten on the inside, and he’s not sure whether to review, although he eventually does with the seconds counting down. Did it pitch in line? NO! Great review, another one West Indies have got right! Richard Illingworth has to overturn his decision this time
12.2 Anderson to Campbell, no run Given again, but I’m sure Campbell will review! Playing no shot as the ball came back off the seam, rapped on the knee roll… height the only question. And it’s going over! Incredible! (Although you’d better believe it.) I thought it looked slightly high, on first glance; only needed to brush the bails, for umpire’s call, but it was clearing leg stump
…but later in the same over, Illingworth (and Anderson) finally got a decision to stick.
12.6 Anderson to Campbell, OUT Smacks the front pad, given lbw for a third time! Campbell asks for assistance from the DRS, but his luck may have finally run out, at least to the naked eye! Richard Illingworth’s trigger finger is backed up by the evidence on this occasion, Hawk-Eye has the ball toppling leg stump – and Campbell’s cannonball run is over!
JD Campbell lbw b Anderson 28 (36b 3×4 0x6) SR: 77.77
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