When England face the West Indies at Edgbaston this Thursday (17th), it will be the first ever day-night Test staged in Blighty. It will also be the start of a three-match series that everyone from Coventry to the Caribbean is predicting will be a procession for the home side.
Our resident cricket expert, Iain Spragg, previews England’s chances.
The West Indies are dangerously out of their depth
The impact of playing under the floodlights in Birmingham remains to be seen, but you will be hard pressed to find anyone from either camp who is overly optimistic about the tourists’ prospects.
Former England skipper, Michael Vaughan, said this week that the series will be “nothing but comfortable” for Joe Root and his troops, while Windies legend, Curtly Ambrose, has reluctantly conceded that the visitors will have to “play exceptionally well to even compete.” The West Indies, the consensus screams, are outgunned and dangerously out of their depth.
England head to the second city buoyed by their 3-1 series victory over South Africa – a result which took them to third and above Australia in the ICC Test rankings – while the Windies currently languish in eighth with only the minnows of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe below them. The established pecking order then is clear.
The good news for the home side doesn’t end there
All-rounder Chris Woakes is fit again and back in the fold after his enforced lay-off with a side strain. Any fears that Root’s elevation to the captaincy would detract from his batting were comprehensively allayed against the Proteas, with the Yorkshireman amassing 461 runs in the series, at an average of more than 57.
Throw in some stunning displays from Moeen Ali – top wicket taker with 25 scalps – and the form of the seemingly evergreen Jimmy Anderson (after his own 20 wicket haul) and England can justifiably claim to be heading in the right direction at a decent rate of knots.
However, questions about the top five persist. The selectors have put opener Keaton Jennings out of his misery and parachuted in Mark Stoneman at the top of the order. Dawid Malan and Tom Westley are both yet to cement their place in the side with the Ashes looming.
A team short on confidence
The Windies, in contrast, are a side desperately short on confidence and short of star quality. Their last six Test series have all ended in demoralising defeats, and they have been deprived of of Chris Gayle, Darren Bravo, Darren Sammy and Marlon Samuels, who offer experience and firepower.
They have beaten England just twice in the last 29 Tests between the two teams and their last series triumph on these shores came back in 1988, in the halycon days of Richards, Marshall, Haynes, Dujon, Greenidge and the aforementioned Ambrose.
There is always a silver lining to every cloud, however faint. The last time these sides did battle in Bridgetown, in May 2015, it was the Windies who emerged victorious despite a century from Alastair Cook and a destructive six-wicket burst in the first innings from Anderson.
Unsurprisingly, England are clear favourites to make it back-to-back series triumphs this summer, at 1/20, with the tourists as long as 28/1 to defy expectations . A drawn series is rated at 12/1.
The margin of England’s anticipated victory also reflects the perceived mismatch between the two line-ups. A 1-0 series win for the home side is 16/1 with Grosvenor Sport, while a 2-0 success is 11/4. A 3-0 whitewash is even shorter at 8/13.
The betting on the leading batsman once again sees Root installed as favourite, at 7/2, with Cook 5/1. Stoneman is priced at 17/2 to mark his Test debut with the top score. Kraigg Brathwaite is rated as the West Indian most likely to prosper with the bat at 11/1. Grosvenor Sport are offering many other markets on this test match.
English players also lead the odds on the top bowler in Birmingham, with Anderson 9/2 to shine brightest in the first innings. Stuart Broad is 13/2, the same price as Shannon Gabriel for the tourists, while Ali is 15/2 to continue his rich vein of form this summer.