WI quickies can dent England
LONDON, ENGLAND - Time was when a Test series against the West Indies would have England’s batsmen checking their life-insurance policies, so ferocious was their bowling attack.
Those anxiety levels, along with the pace battery that caused them, are long gone, but a new clutch of quicks has the speed to discomfit Andrew Strauss and his batsmen, especially if they fail to find form ahead of the first Test on May 17.
Spearheaded by Kemar Roach and Fidel Edwards, both capable of 90 mph plus should the sun shine, the team also possesses some steady seamers in Darren Sammy, the captain, and Ravi Rampaul, who should prosper on early-season pitches in England.
Of course pace and guile used to exist within the same bowler when Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts and Michael Holding ran the show, but having separate men supply them this time could still chasten England even if the tourists’ batsmen won’t.
“Oh, yes, no doubt,” said Sammy on Thursday as his team began preparing at Hove. “We have been taking 20 wickets in Test cricket for the last year-and-a-half. I must give coach, Ottis Gibson, credit for that.
"We are a much-improved bowling team. The conditions here do tend to aid fast and swing bowling and I am quite confident that our guys can put the English batsmen under pressure.”
Gibson, once England’s bowling coach under both Peter Moores and Andy Flower, could offer useful insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the home side, but he resisted the urge to say his bowlers would specifically target Strauss, despite the England captain’s lengthy dip in form (25 innings since his last Test century).
He did admit that England’s captain was top of their hit list but only by dint of batting order.
“You always hear teams - the Aussies are good at it - targeting the captain,” said Gibson. “But we need to target everybody; we need to get 20 wickets.
Strauss is just one of them. He’s at the top of the order, so he’ll be the first. We’ll have some pretty good plans to their batters, based on how they’ve played recently as we have a lot of footage.
"We’ll also see if we can exploit weaknesses based on my having bowled at them in the nets and my understanding of how they think.”
Gibson has been the West Indies’ head coach for two years and has slowly moulded the team into what his captain reckons is beginning to “shape up like a family”.
The bowling trumps the batting, though, with only Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Darren Bravo likely to possess the experience and class to prevent England’s bowling attack running riot.
“The fact that Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steve Finn have been doing it for a little while now will give them an advantage,” said Gibson.
“But, at the same time, with the ability of Rampaul, Edwards and Roach, who had a fantastic series against Australia, and not forgetting young Shannon Gabriel and the captain: we feel our bowling is our strength.
“We haven’t batted well. But if we can put runs on the board, we believe that bowling attack is good enough.”
Getting those runs on the board proved elusive on their last tour despite them having a lot more firepower, in the form of Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo, to call upon.
As ever, a Herculean task awaits Chanderpaul, who at 37 has just become the world’s No 1 ranked Test batsman.
His legendary resolve is at odds to the callow nature of most in the top order, especially in English conditions, but there is talent there and that talent has to start somewhere.
“Stats don’t lie and it is fair to say our top order has looked vulnerable,” said Sammy. “It did not click against Australia, but the selectors still have shown faith in Adrian Barath and Kieran Powell.
"They are quite young, they are still learning on the job.”
Gibson is equally realistic about their Test prospects but is more gung-ho about their chances in the one-day series especially if the likes of Gayle, now available for selection, and others like Kieron Pollard, are drafted into the team.
“The Test series is going to be tough, but if we play to our capabilities we believe we have a one-day team that is more than capable of winning that series.
“It seems that not much is expected of us - which is good for us as we can go out and enjoy our cricket.
"The last time we played at Lord’s I was in the England dressing room and the game was over in two-and-a-half days. If we can take this Lord’s Test to four, that will be great.”