Fri, Feb 28, 2014 - Page 19 News List

Windies, England to start two weeks of intriguing play

AFP, NORTH SOUND, Antigua and Barbuda

Two teams in dire need of rehabilitation ahead of the next global cricketing contest start what should be an intriguing fortnight of competition today when the West Indies host England in Antigua.

While the next World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is still just less than a year away, the Caribbean side’s defense of the World T20 crown begins in three weeks’ time in Bangladesh.

So it will be no surprise if there is even greater interest and purpose attached to the three T20 fixtures between Dwayne Bravo’s men and Stuart Broad’s side in Barbados the week following the final one-day international (ODI).

However, in the almost immediate aftermath of horrendous foreign campaigns, victories for either side in any format and against any opposition will be welcome.

England’s annihilation in Australia over all three established formats of the game grabbed most international attention, but the West Indies also endured humiliating Test series defeats in India and New Zealand, despite performing more creditably in the ODIs.

Both squads are without key performers going into the opening exchanges at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, named in honor of the tiny nation’s greatest cricketer.

On England’s previous visit to the Caribbean in 2009, the scheduled second Test in the same North Sound venue lasted all of nine deliveries before it was abandoned due to a poorly prepared outfield covered with more sand than any of the island’s idyllic beaches.

Then, Kevin Pietersen had just been replaced as captain by Andrew Strauss.

Now he is out of the picture altogether, the general perception being that for all his abundant batting talent, he is too much of a maverick to be accommodated at a time when all hands are needed on deck and working together for the good of the team.

West Indies have no intention of parting ways with their own mercurial batsmen as yet.

Still, Chris Gayle will not be in the line-up for the three ODI’s due to a back injury sustained in the first of two T20’s against Ireland the previous week in his native Jamaica.

It is hoped he will be fit for the T20s against England, but the same cannot be said for power-hitting all-rounder Kieron Pollard, who misses this series and the World T20 as he continues his recuperation from knee surgery.

In sharing the honors with the Irish in two scrappy, low-scoring matches and then taking the lone ODI by four wickets at Sabina Park, the home side presented little in the way of significant improvement.

That suggests that England, for all their travails in Australia where they lost 12 of 13 international matches, may actually start the series as marginal favorites.

In their only warmup fixture of the brief tour, England held off the challenge of the University of the West Indies Vice-Chancellor’s XI on Tuesday thanks in the main to an anchoring unbeaten century by Joe Root and a supporting half-century by Ben Stokes.

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