England Lions v West Indians, Northampton May 9, 2012

Lions playing for more than pride

A week out from the first Test and West Indies' squad is assembling piece-by-piece in England but it continues to be a difficult build-up for the tourists. England Lions, who they face in Northampton for their final warm-up match, managed outdoor training on Wednesday but, right on cue, as West Indies arrived at the ground the rain returned and they were forced to use the indoor school.

Darren Sammy continued to shrug off the issues with a cool smile, but the forecast is not promising for the opening day of the Lions match and, although prospects are better towards the weekend, it seems inconceivable that West Indies will enter the Test series anything other than seriously underprepared. The situation was summed up when Sammy was asked about whether Fidel Edwards, whose back has caused some concerns but has been declared fit, was bowling at full pace. "We haven't had a chance to find out," was Sammy's response.

Providing the weather does clear up to allow a substantial amount of cricket this match should provide an intriguing contest between the tourists and the England fringe players vying for further recognition. Lions matches are unloved by the counties as they lose key players for important Championship games - Surrey, for example, are without Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker against Worcestershire this week - but they are a valuable stepping stone to the next level both in terms of acknowledging performance and also integrating players into the Team England bubble. Rarely, if ever now, does an England player reach Test level away from the Lions pathway.

In the corresponding fixture a year ago, against the Sri Lankans at Derby, there was a clear head-to-head battle between Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan for the No. 6 spot, which the latter won with an aggressive 193. This time there are no glaring vacancies in the Test line-up for Lord's if it is assumed that Bopara will, finally, get another chance at No. 6 - although Jonny Bairstow could further his claims with a strong display in Northampton - but there is so much cricket on the horizon that depth of resources is vital.

Dernbach and Meaker are part of the deep bowling reserves available and Lancashire's Simon Kerrigan is vying with Scott Borthwick as the young spinner to watch. Middle-order options are led by James Taylor, who will captain the Lions, Bairstow and Samit Patel, who remains the man in possession after the Sri Lanka tour but is unlikely to be in the first Test squad of the summer.

However, this is not a Lions side based purely on youth. Nick Compton, still on course for 1000 runs before the end of May in a bowler-dominated start to the season, and Michael Carberry are 28 and 31 respectively and have been rewarded for consistent run-scoring. If one of England's top three broke a finger between now and next Thursday it could well be one of those two who stepped into the breach. Further runs in this match will do no harm. For both, though, their chance (or, in Carberry's case, second chance) will have to come soon otherwise the baton passes to the next generation.

Ian Bell will also be on display having asked for a chance for further match practice after finding form for Warwickshire last week against Durham. Despite a difficult winter he is the one player from this team certain to be included when the Test squad is announced on Sunday morning. However, the players on the next rung of English batting need to keep breathing down the neck of the incumbents, something which has not quite happened in the same way as with the bowling attack, where England could field two high-quality units.

With all the rain around it could be that the Lions play a full hand of quick bowlers, which would include Kent's Matt Coles and Northamptonshire's Jack Brooks on his home ground, and leave the spin bowling to Patel. Whichever combination is decided on it will provide a tough test for West Indies' brittle top three, which is leaving huge pressure on Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Darren Bravo to provide a potent attack something to defend. For Adrian Barath, Kirk Edwards and Kieran Powell it will not come much tougher than May in England but West Indies can ill-afford to be three down early too often during the Test series. Before all that, however, the rain needs to stop.

Edited by Alan Gardner

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo