England’s credibility is on the line as they take on West Indies in the first Test at Lord’s on Thursday.
The heavy defeats in the Middle East and the Sub-Continent over the last few months have raised a lot of questions over whether England can sustain their No 1 ranking in the long run.
They managed to hold on to it despite South Africa’s charge to wrest it off them. The series against the West Indies has added significance, as South Africa are set to tour England in the second half of the summer.
England will not wish for a straight fight for the top ranking. They will be hoping that they can overcome the resurgent West Indies and hold on to the crown.
They have a good chance too. The first half of the summer will certainly help England. The usual rain and clouds may well spell heavy weather for the inexperienced West Indians.
The seaming conditions may as well help the West Indian fast men. But England are the better batting side and their players are well equipped to counter the conditions.
The series will also be a reality check for the West Indies. Take away Shivnaraine Chanderpaul’s contributions and the batting is pathetic to say the least; Darren Bravo has promise but needs to stay longer and score bigger. Marlon Samuels has been indifferent on his comeback and will need to show consistency to prove that he fits in.
The repeated omission of Ramnaresh Sarwan seems mystifying. He is the victim of the so-called new culture of the West Indies team. All this talk of culture is utter rubbish. The West Indies always played their best cricket when they were unconventional and erratic. One couldn’t get a Brian Lara to toe the line or for that matter a Desmond Haynes or a Gordon Greenidge.
The West Indies build their reputation on aggressive cricket. They had the geniuses who would make zero on one day and smash 200 on another. This sedate approach will make them at best good opponents but nothing more.
The saving grace for the West Indies are the bowlers. Kemar Roach, Fidel Edwards and Ravi Rampaul are fine bowlers and getting better by the day.
England will feel good that skipper Andrew Strauss has got among the runs for his county Middlesex. Strauss should be left alone by the critics, as he is still one of England’s best opening batsmen. Kevin Pietersen has found his golden touch once again. He was in prime form in the IPL and this has continued in the county matches.
The big question mark will be Ian Bell’s form. But Bell has a very good technique and he will return to top gear sooner than later.
England will bank on the bowlers on conditions which are tailor-made for them. James Anderson is deadly on English wickets and he may well be the key to England’s resurgence.
The focus will once again fall on the two captains. Darren Sammy is a useful cricketer and an enthusiastic and positive captain. But he will need to raise his game to justify his presence in the side.
Srauss has been much maligned for nothing. The good thing is that Strauss is a fighter to the core. His redemption could well be in this series.
If Strauss clicks, then the sunny days of English cricket may well be back in the gloom of early summer.