After a great conclusion to the first Test of the summer, England head to Old Trafford in order to try and rescue the series and their chances of regaining the Wisden Trophy. For the West Indies, tomorrow’s Test presents an historic opportunity to win their first Test series in England since 1988. There certainly isn’t a direct financial motive for the tourists, with their series win bonus being reportedly only £1,600 each. It throws the disparity between the two teams’ financial positions into sharp focus, as well as explaining why so many players from countries outside the Big Three concentrate on T20 instead of the longer formats. As might be expected after a game where they outperformed England in virtually every aspect of the game, the West Indies have announced an unchanged squad.
England’s situation is, as is common after a loss, significantly more fluid. It’s been confirmed that Joe Root will replace Joe Denly in England’s top order, which will take no one by surprise. Anderson and Wood have also been rested for this Test, meaning that Sam Curran and Ollie Robinson have been drafted into the matchday squad. This means that there are four bowlers vying for the two open slots, with Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes having missed out last week.
This squad means that Jos Buttler and Dom Bess will be retained, probably for the remainder of the series. Buttler’s issues with the bat have been apparent for a while now and, after his drop of Blackwood in the previous Test, his work behind the stumps will be closely examined too. Since Chris Read’s last game in 2007, no England Test batsman has averaged less than Jos Buttler whilst playing as wicketkeeper. It’s clear that there is a huge amount of faith in Jos Buttler within the England camp, but surely this experiment has to come to a close soon?
With Dom Bess, his continued selection asks more questions about how the England selectors view Jack Leach. After 10 Tests, 5 of which were in England, Jack Leach has a lower Test bowling average than Graeme Swann. Both at home and away. Leach also has a lower Test economy rate than Swann. Leach has even contributed for England with the bat, most notably at Headingley last year, and has a useful Test batting average of 18.33. I’m not saying that Leach is a better spin bowler than Swann was, but he’s not done much wrong and must be asking what more he could have done to earn a place in the team this summer.
Despite all of the uncertainty in selection, muddled thinking and their sloppiness in the field, I still think England should be considered clear favourites to win in home conditions against this West Indies team. Even with all of the mistakes England made in the first Test, they still had chances to win the game in the final day. The West Indies are no mugs, and to underestimate them (or call them mediocre) would be a mistake, but the last game represents only their second away Test victory since the start of 2018. This is largely because they don’t play many Tests, being in only six games away from home in that period. Their squad has talent and potential, and Jason Holder in particular is a remarkable all-round cricketer, but a team with the experience and resources of England should beat them more often than not.
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