After a long hiatus due to the global pandemic, cricket finally returns on Wednesday July 8th with the start of England’s revised home season as they face West Indies in a three-Test series. Here is a preview of the 1st Test along with some bets to consider for the match in Southampton.
With Joe Root, England’s red-ball captain, out of the first Test against West Indies to attend the birth of his second child, Ben Stokes will step up to lead England for the first time. Dan Lawrence or Ollie Pope could move to No. 4 to replace Root, while Stokes is likely to retain the No. 5 spot. Although there is some fluidity in England’s batting line-up, they seem fairly settled after a topsy-turvy Ashes series last year, which ended 2-2. Pope even contributed with a solid half-century in the second innings of the warm-up game.
There aren’t too many problems for England’s bowling attack. James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer are expected to constitute a three-pronged bowling core. England’s bowlers were the first to return to training last month at their respective county grounds in order to prepare themselves for the shortened home season, which includes series against West Indies and Pakistan.
West Indies have traditionally struggled to deal with the lateral movement in England. Even though West Indies’ prep for this series began in early June, which included a 14-day quarantine after landing in England, their red-ball credentials still need some work. Darren Bravo opted out of the tour prior to the release of the squad. They will depend on Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope, two of their best players in this format. Those two scripted a famous fourth-innings victory at Headingley in West Indies’ previous tour.
West Indies can take some spirit out of their 2-1 Test series victory against England at home last year, with Kemar Roach being the protagonist with his nagging pace and bounce. Conditions, both overhead and underfoot, are expected to be entirely different in Southampton though.
From a betting perspective, it seems implausible that West Indies will be able to acclimatise to the quality and accuracy of England’s fantastic seam-bowling core. While they have participated in intra-squad training games in the lead-up to this tournament, they haven’t faced English county oppositions, as is tradition ahead of a Test series in England. All of England’s bowlers had a good warm-up in a three-day practice match last week as well. I’d bet on England winning inside four days but I wouldn’t rule out a three-day finish either.
In three Tests against England at home, Kemar Roach took 18 wickets. In North Sound, he led West Indies to a rare test series win with match figures of 8 for 82. He bowled a total of 34 maidens in those three Tests. That is also an important metric because West Indies captain Jason Holder looks to Roach for control, with the new ball as well as when the ball begins to reverse. He followed that series up with nine wickets in a two-Test series against India. This will be only Roach’s fourth Test match outside home since December 2017, but if you had to pick one bowler with all the attributes - skill, quality, penetration and spirit - it would be Roach.
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