In recent times, meetings between England and the West Indies have had more than their fair share of action. World records, hat tricks, and hundreds and (mostly) destructive bowling have never been far away.
This series, however, threatens to take even that to a new level. The West Indies have been in trouble for some time, with in-fighting and immaturity keeping a hold on any steps taken forward. Under Chris Gayle, there has been a marked improvement, but still they find themselves battling to keep off the bottom of the “real” test ladder.
Meanwhile, England have completed a spectacular self destruction which began after “that series” in 2005. Sacking a captain and coach on the same day is unprecedented, and England now looks to Strauss to dig them out of their self-made hole.
Key players - West Indies
Chris Gayle—The West Indies talisman. Gayle went through a lean 18 months before 2008, but since then, he has scored runs almost at will. His captaincy has also given the team a spin—they are no longer the rabble that they were in England in 2007. One of the few players on either side capable of winning a game single handed.
2008 – 535 runs @ 53.50
Jerome Taylor—Since the retirement of Ambrose and Walsh, the West Indies have got through their fair share of quick bowlers. Jerome Taylor always looked the most likely to break through but, like so many before him, lacked the required consistency. However, along with Fidel Edwards, in 2008, he began to show signs that he may just be ready to lead the next battery of West Indies quicks. His batting has also come on, culminating in a whirlwind century against New Zealand in December.
2008 - 27 wickets @ 32.92, 305 runs @ 27.72
Shiv Chanderpaul—Rated as the best batsman in world with good reason. Has averaged a Bradmanesque 100 for the past two years—made all the more stunning by the fact that he has had to carry the West Indies batting on his own. When in form, he is virtually impossible to dislodge from the crease. If he has a bad series, the West Indies will struggle to even win one test. A good series, and England will have to fight to take 20 wickets—that is how important he is.
2008 - 909 runs @ 101.00
Key players - England
Andrew Strauss—A year ago, the Middlesex man was fighting for his place. Now, he finds himself England captain. There won't be the chest thumping or bear hugging of the Pietersen reign, but Strauss is a harder man than people may give him credit for. If he carries over the steely resolve that his 2008 batting showed, England may just start moving in the right direction again.
2008 - 972 runs @ 48.60
Kevin Pietersen—All eyes will be on him, which is just the way he likes it. As much as Peter Moores championed the averages of the England top six, Pietersen is the one real class act England own. If he sulks at the loss of the captaincy, we may have already seen his best. If it spurs him, there is no limit to how good he can be. Expect the latter—if this is the case the West Indies may be on the end of something special.
2008 - 1015 @ 50.75
Steve Harmison—It really is crunch time for the big Durham man. If it really is to be believed that he can get back to his 2004 zenith, here is the place he must prove it. A bad series, and that could well be that for him. A good series and England will move towards the Ashes with the most potent spearhead on either side. The West Indies was where he was born as a world class quick—it could well be the site of his rebirth too.
2008 - 6 wickets @ 57.33
Verdict—Despite being at home and the well publicised problems of England, the West Indies will come into this series as underdogs. England look to have far deeper batting reserves, although the problems at No. 3 need to be resolved. The West Indies need to find someone to back up Sarwan, Chanderpaul, and Gayle—if Xavier Marshall breaks through, they could just give England a scare. Wicketkeeper-wise, both Prior and Ramdin need runs to cement their places—this could be a key matchup. Edwards and Taylor against Harmison and Anderson should be fascinating, but England really are leagues ahead in terms of back up bowlers. Having Flintoff, Broad, and Swann compared to Bravo, Powell, and Benn should be where England win this series.