England v West Indies – first Test preview

It’s that time of the year again – the first Test at Lord’s has come around. Both of us are dusting down our garish blazers and stocking up on pastry-encased pork products ready for an assault on the Warner Stand on Sunday, but in the meantime, there’s three whole days of cricket to be played. So what are the big issues ahead of the Test match (other than how many pork pies we can eat in a day)?

1. Jonny Bairstow, England’s latest flame-haired Number 6 – Jonny Bairstow will make his England debut tomorrow, barring calamity, and in doing so will become the 13th father-son pairing to play Test cricket for England (and the first, by our reckoning, since Stuart Broad emulated his father Chris). There’s no doubt he is an exciting cricketer and this is definitely the right time to throw in a new face – Bairstow will almost certainly be given the whole series to show his talent. We’re just a little bit bitter that James Taylor wasn’t picked, but only because it would have made us look like incredible (even clairvoyant) analysts of the game, as we picked him to play in this Test all the way back on 2nd February. Oh well, can’t win ’em all. Bairstow is probably the better pick at Number 6. We reckon Jonathan Agnew’s suggestion that Taylor would have played if a higher order place was up for grabs is pretty accurate. Anyway, good luck Jonny. As for poor Ravi Bopara, our conclusion is that someone up there (presumably a cricket fan themselves) really doesn’t want Ravi to play any more Test cricket, even with his ridiculously unrepresentative record against this opposition.

2. Will the West Indies top order continue to shoot themselves in the foot? Blimey, the Windies could use Chris Gayle at the moment. They’re stuck with the horribly inexperienced trio of Adrian Barath, Kieran Powell and Kirk Edwards (not forgetting the already ditched Kraigg Braithwaite) who, no doubt, will blossom into good cricketers, but they are not yet ready for this level. In their 9 innings so far this year (including the one and a bit tour games played in England), the first three wickets have yielded only (chronologically): 167, 4, 38, 53-2, 73, 45, 26, 67, 16 and 26. When you add into the mix that their Number 6 is in effect an allrounder (whether it is Samuels or Deonarine), their keeper is returning to the side after being dropped for poor batting and their last four tailenders average only around 47 between them (compared to England’s 103), their batting is fragile at best. To say they’re over-reliant on Chanderpaul and Bravo is like saying Joey Barton has slight anger issues. We expect collapses…

3. Will England’s batsmen fire? What with the top six’s mixed winter to say the least, coupled with a few iffy championship performances, some people were starting to get nervous about England’s batting lineup and whether they would routinely pile up 500-600 like they have over the last couple of years. However, as things stand, all of England’s top seven have scored at least 40 in their most recent innings with the exception of Ian Bell (who made a hundred and an unbeaten fifty in the two innings before that). Although the openers haven’t been in great nick, all of Trott, KP, Bell and Bairstow are in tip-top form. It’s good to see that England have included another batsman capable of counteracting the so-called ‘Cook / Trott effect’ which has been known to induce acute narcolepsy in even the most exuberant individuals.

4. The Fearsome Foursome – Edwards. Roach. Sammy. Rampaul. This is the terrifying attack which may well await England tomorrow. Well… Holding, Roberts, Garner, Marshall it is not. Nor is it Croft, Bishop, Walsh, Ambrose. We could go on. Roach is good and has great potential, Edwards has shown flashes of brilliance, but Sammy and Rampaul are distinctly average. They will have to make full use of the conditions if they are to knock England over in their own back yard. Speaking of which…

5. The Conditions – All the talk in England over the last six weeks has been about the rotten conditions. Many county scores have been low, batsmen have struggled and bowlers prospered. So what will the Lord’s track be like tomorrow? It’ll certainly have something for the bowlers and you have to think that whoever wins the toss may well bowl first. However, Lord’s is generally good for batsmen, so big totals are still possible (well, not for the Windies).

6. England’s bouncebackability – Let it not be forgotten that England have lost four of their last five Test matches and have a serious question mark hanging over their Number 1 status. They have nothing to gain and plenty to lose in this series – everyone expects them to win 2-0 or 3-0, they are the home side and they are playing a (still) rebuilding Windies side. If England lose any Tests in this series, idiotic questions will be asked by journalists about what went wrong. We don’t expect England to lose a match, but it won’t make them awful if they do. A murderous glare or two from Andy Flower should be sufficient to ensure complacency is not an issue.

Over.

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