The wait is finally over! 116 days after Australia hammered New Zealand by 71 runs in an ODI at Sydney on March 13, international cricket is finally set to resume on Wednesday (July 8) with England taking on West Indies in a three-match Test series. The first of three Tests will be played at Southampton and the match will take place behind closed doors.
There has been no international cricket since mid-March, with all sports put on hold due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Football leagues like the La Liga, Bundesliga, English Premier League and few other European tournaments have already resumed, and now the return of cricket has left every cricket fan excited. There will be something discomfiting about watching a Test match in England in a stadium filled with echoes and air, rather than the Barmy Army chanting in support of their team and players. However, as they say, something is better than nothing.
Coming back to the on-field action, England will start the series as red-hot favourites. They will be without their regular Test skipper Joe Root in Southampton but the fourth-ranked side still have enough depth in their squad and will fancy their chances in home conditions. Originally named the Wisden Trophy, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has named the series as 'Raise the Bat' to pay tribute to the key workers combating the pandemic. The Wisden Trophy is currently with West Indies, courtesy their 2-1 series win in the Caribbean in early 2019.
On paper, England are clearly more formidable but no way they will take West Indies, who are ranked No. 8 in the ICC Test rankings, lightly. The Jason Holder-led side doesn't have a very strong batting line-up but they have fast bowlers who are proven match-winners and can rattle England on any given day as they found out in their last tour of West Indies. Apart from the captain himself, there are few other players who will have to be at the top of their game if West Indies want to go toe-to-toe against England in their own conditions.
Here are few West Indies players who will be expected to play a key role in the series:
The West Indies Test skipper has crazy numbers in the longest format of the game since the start of 2018. The right-arm paceman has picked up 53 wickets in 11 Tests at an unbelievable average of 14.2 in this time period. Holder has the best average amongst bowlers who have bowled in at least 10 innings since 2018. Apart from that, Holder has also scored 680 runs at an average of 42.5.
Overall, he doesn't have a great record against England in Tests - 23 wickets at 29.9 - but he was phenomenal with both bat and ball when England toured West Indies last year. The right-hander slammed a double century in Barbados and even picked up seven wickets at 17.85 in the series. Holder will once again have to play a crucial role with both bat and ball and lead West Indies from the front. The 28-year-old will have enough support in the bowling department, but his performance with the bat will be more pivotal considering West Indies don't have a great batting line-up.
When fully fit, Roach is a world-class bowler and a proven match-winner. It was the right-arm paceman who demolished the English batting line-up when they travelled to West Indies last year. Roach picked up 18 wickets in three Tests at an astonishing average of 13.88. He has an average of less than 20 since the start of 2018 and has done well against England in the past.
Roach will be expected to lead the West Indies bowling attack but his record in England isn't really great. He averages almost 32 in the five Tests he has played in England and will hope to perform to his full potential. He has troubled the likes of Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes in the past and will fancy his chances against the England batting set-up. Consistently bowling at around 140-150 kph, Roach can turn the series upside down with his ruthless aggression and sheer pace.
Gabriel, who was recovering from an ankle surgery, wasn't part of the original 14-man squad but the right-arm fast bowler was added to the set-up after successfully proving his fitness in the two intra-squad matches at Old Trafford. He struggled in the two-Test series against India in September 2019 and didn't have a great time with Gloucestershire in the County Championship either. That's when he decided to go under the knife and is only making his return now.
He wasn't at his best against India because of the injury but apart from that Gabriel has done really well in the last few years. Now that he is fully fit, Gabriel will add "experience, firepower and potency to the bowling unit". Despite that horrible series against India, Gabriel averages less than 25 and will form a threatening pace trio with Roach and Holder.
3289 runs at 52.20, Hope has been outstanding for West Indies in ODIs in the last few years but the wicketkeeper-batsman hasn't really been able to replicate his white-ball success in Test cricket. The right-handed batsman averages just 27.23 in 31 Tests, which drops down even further to 20.08 in the last two years and a half. Hope made his Test debut at the age of 21 but didn't really make any substantial impact in his first two years of Test cricket.
However, it all changed when West Indies toured England in 2017. The young lad from Barbados crafted a hundred in each innings (147 and 118*) in the second Test at Headingley and led his team to a historic win. He followed it up with another half-century at Lord's and it seemed like Hope was ready for Test cricket. However, things haven't quite gone as planned and Hope has been very inconsistent in the five-day format. He is unarguably the most talented West Indian batsman of the modern era and he will be itching to make a solid impact against James Anderson and Co.
"Once you do well in England, I think your stock as a cricketer goes up on the international scene. When you score hundreds in England, I think, as a batsman people take you more serious and rate you a bit higher." On his last tour to England in 2017, Chase could manage only 80 runs in six innings, averaging just 13.33. However, when England toured the West Indies last year, Chase slammed a century and a fifty and even scalped 8/60 in the second innings with the ball in the opening Test in Barbados.
Apart from five centuries and seven fifties, Chase has picked four wickets or more six times in an innings, but he has been very inconsistent in both departments. With his all-round skills, someone like Chase provides that much-required balance, and he will be expected to play a key role in that fragile middle-order. If he can chip in with both bat and ball, West Indies will have the liberty to go with an extra batsman or a bowler.
Kraigg Brathwaite: The 27-year-old is the most experienced player in the West Indies squad but has been in terrible form of late. The opener hasn't managed a single half-century in his last 20 innings and will look to return back to form in England. In Headingley where Hope scored a hundred in each innings, Brathwaite made 134 and 95. His contributions are equally important and the right-hander will once again have to play a key role up the order.
Oshane Thomas: The right-arm paceman is not officially in the 15-man Test squad but the 23-year-old might be drafted in from the reserves list as the series goes by. Thomas bowls at a good pace and West Indies might require him just to create that uneasiness amongst batsmen. He is yet to play a Test but has picked up 27 wickets in 20 ODIs and 15 wickets in 12 T20Is.
Joshua Da Silva: It's not even been two years since the wicketkeeper-batsman made his first-class debut but Da Silva has risen through the ranks in quick time. Playing for the Holder XI, the 22-year-old scored 133* and 56* against Brathwaite XI in the second intra-squad warm-up game and has pushed his name up for discussion. He carried the bat in the first innings in which no other batsman even crossed the 40-run mark. Like Thomas, he is not part of the main squad but if the need arises, Da Silva can play multiple roles. He is a replacement for wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich but if needed, Da Silva can also open the innings.