West Indies enter tomorrow’s third Test at Kensington Oval against England seeking a victory to draw the series.
After holding their own for nine days of the series in Antigua and Grenada, the West Indies meekly surrendered on the fifth day of the second Test at the Grenada National Stadium to give England a 1-0 lead in the series and perhaps evidence of ECB chairman Colin Graves’ “mediocre” tag.
The West Indies are expected to make changes in their line-up with Veerasammy Permaul named to the squad after leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo came down with an injury to his spinning finger. Fast-bowler Kemar Roach could make way if Shannon Gabriel is retained. The burly Gabriel out-bowled the lacklustre Roach in the second Test and could feel aggrieved if the Barbadian pacer is preferred to him tomorrow.
The match could have great personal significance for the struggling Shivnarine Chanderpaul. The Guyanese left-hander has endured poor form in recent matches but needs just 71 runs to overtake Brian Lara’s 11,953 runs and become the highest run-scorer in West Indies cricket. Chanderpaul, 40, has only passed fifty once in his last nine Test innings and knives are already sharpening in some quarters for the ever-reliable middle-order batsman.
However new coach Phil Simmons has emphasized his confidence in Chanderpaul and he should take the middle tomorrow. Always one for an occasion, Chanderpaul could not choose a better moment to come good with a century. There have been 99 previous Test tons at Kensington Oval and he could register the 100th if West Indies bat first on what is expected to be a batsman-friendly pitch. Chanderpaul also made his first Test century at Kensington Oval in 1997.
Despite his continued batting failures Devon Smith is likely to suit up for the Test. Smith continues to score heavily at the regional level but has found the transition to Test cricket a mountain too high. And the age of 33 this could be his last opportunity to prolong his international career. However, if the selectors heed calls to strengthen the bowling and include an additional fast bowler, he could find himself on the sidelines with one of the middle-order batsmen pushed up the order.
Gabriel bowled with pace in the second Test and provided more threat than Roach throughout the match. Roach has been down on pace since returning from a shoulder injury and surgery. However, it will be a brave call by the selectors to leave him out tomorrow, even though the return of Jerome Taylor from injury will bolster the attack.
Fast-bowling all-rounder Jason Holder was taken off the field on the final day of the Grenada Test with a foot injury but is expected to play.
Batting legend Sir Viv Richards has bemoaned the West Indies’ lack of aggression in the series and their inability to press home positions of advantage in both Antigua and Grenada. Yesterday he called on skipper Denesh Ramdin to be more aggressive and in a press briefing ahead of tomorrow’s game the wicketkeeper/batsman promised a more aggressive approach.
“We need to come hard at the English. We are one down, so we need to play a little more aggressive and positive cricket,” he said.
England have most of their boxes ticked and a draw will see them retaining the Wisden Trophy.
Joe Root, seen by most knowledgeable English pundits as the future of English batting, has been a thorn in the side of the West Indies, contributing in all four innings on tour so far, including a majestic century in the second innings in Grenada. West Indies will be seeking to capture his scalp rather early, as together with Gary Ballance, he has provided England’s main middle-order resistance.
England have very few concerns, although the form of Jonathan Trott at the top of the order continues to be a worry. There have been calls for the inclusion of leg-spinner Adil Rashid but this could be decided by pitch conditions more so than team balance. There is an injury cloud over fiery all-rounder Ben Stokes while many locals will be hoping that their Barbadian export Chris Jordan suits up for the visitors. Jordan bowled well in Antigua and Grenada but has taken only five wickets in the series.
Speaking to the media captain Alastair Cook did not hint at any changes in the team line-up.
“The normal inclination is to go with the same team because you like to give people the confidence that they are not always playing for their place. You get stability when you’re winning and everyone knows their role in the team,” Cook said.
A huge crowd is expected for tomorrow’s May Day Bank Holiday start at 10 a.m.