Less than two months after Chris Gayle lifted the Wisden Trophy in the Digicel Series in the Caribbean, the West Indies will have to battle a determined England, chilly conditions and a feeble build-up to ensure that the coveted prize isn’t given right back as the first Test of the two-match series begins at Lord’s on Wednesday (6 am EC time/5 am JCA).
The West Indies, in front of their home fans and on batting-friendly pitches, clung on to a 1-0 series win back in March but captain Gayle knows his team will have a different challenge to face so early in an English summer.
“It will be tough, there’s no two ways about it,” the imposing Jamaican said on the eve of the match. “It will be even more challenging than back home. We are all aware of the conditions. We expect these things.”
The West Indies, without Gayle, were unconvincing in their three warm-up matches which culminated in a 10-wicket loss to England’s reserves with a day to spare in seamer-friendly conditions at Derby last Friday.
But the skipper, who only arrived in England on Monday morning, rejected the groundswell of opinion that his belated arrival from his stint with the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League (IPL) would hurt his performance and impact negatively on his team.
“I’ve been playing long enough and I’ve been in these situations before where you have ODIs and then, the next couple of days, Test matches,” Gayle said. “It’s been like that right throughout my career. It’s a challenge but you have to go out there and put whatever negatives behind you.”
Gayle stressed that it was crucial for him and his team to begin the series well.
“The first day of the Test match can determine the outcome of the game so we just need that good start,” he said. “We just have to try to stick to the basic things. And we need to put pressure on them right from that first session, whatever we do, then build on it.”
The West Indies batting will lean heavily on Gayle and his senior pros Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the No.1 batsman in the world.
The warm-up games produced few runs for the batsmen with only Lendl Simmons, the confident right-hander enhancing his reputation with a century against Leicestershire.
The 24-year-old Simmons, who made his debut against England in the fifth and final match in the Caribbean, is set to partner Gayle at the top of the order.
Left-hander Brendan Nash adds steel to the order in between Sarwan and Chanderpaul, while all-rounder David Bernard Jr. could gain a recall six years after he last played international cricket for the West Indies as he battles Darren Sammy for the all-rounder spot.
One of them will benefit from the absence of Dwayne Bravo, whose recovery from ankle surgery allows him to play in the less strenuous IPL but does not allow him to handle the tough five-day grind of Test cricket.
Jerome Taylor has shaken off his own injury problems to resume his new ball partnership with Fidel Edwards, who also enjoyed a stint in the IPL. Fellow seamer Lionel Baker and left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn should provide support.
Taylor and Benn were the match-winners when England were bundled out for 51 as the West Indies won by an innings in what turned out to be the only outright result in the gripping Digicel Series.
England, still led by Andrew Strauss and with Andrew Flower now confirmed as full time coach, has shaken up its line-up with seamers Graham Onions and Tim Bresnan both hoping to make their debuts at the home of cricket. Left-arm spinner Monty Panesar, despite taking six wickets at this venue two years ago when the West Indies toured, is expected to miss out.
Onions is a team-mate of Chanderpaul’s at Durham while Bresnan is a typically resolute Yorkshireman.
Like the West Indies with Bravo, England is missing the services of key all-rounder Andrew Flintoff as he recovers from yet another injury.
West Indies: Chris Gayle (captain), Lendl Simmons, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Brendan Nash, David Bernard Jr. or Darren Sammy, Denesh Ramdin, Jerome Taylor, Sulieman Benn, Fidel Edwards, Lionel Baker. Reserves: Devon Smith, Andrew Richardson, Nelon Pascal, Dale Richards, Narsingh Deonarine.
England: Andrew Strauss (captain), Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann, Graham Onions, James Anderson. Reserve: Monty Panesar.