England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord's May 16, 2012

Fallen giants face daunting test

Although there have been signs of improvement for West Indies their away record remains dismal and England will start the series as overwhelming favourites

It says much for how the mighty have fallen that, a few weeks ago, West Indies took comfort in the relatively small margin of defeat they suffered in a Test in Barbados. Outside the theatre where they once starred - where they went 59 years without defeat - West Indies were reduced to foraging through the bins for scraps.

Where once West Indies set records for invincibility - they went 15 years without losing a Test series between 1980-1994 - their trophy cabinet now groans only with loneliness and neglect. Excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh you have to go back to 1995 to the last time West Indies won an overseas series. They have won just eight of their last 80 Tests. They are overwhelming underdogs in the Test series against England.

The West Indies squad of 2012 is not bad: they have the No. 1-rated Test batsman and a fast bowling attack the envy of every country but England, South Africa and Australia. While they bear no comparison to the team of the 1970s or 80s - the likes of Ezra Moseley, Wayne Daniel and Sylvester Clarke, bit part players in that glory era, would have been legends had they been born 30 years later - they possess talent, team spirit and unity of purpose. Those are decent foundations.

The frustrating aspect is that they are not maximising their resources. A board dripping with incompetence and a players' union bristling with militancy have combined to create a farcical situation where there is a side available to them which might be able to defeat the official team. With better management, the likes of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and Sunil Narine might be playing at Lord's rather than in the IPL. The likes of Ramnaresh Sarwan, Sulieman Benn, Tino Best, Brendan Nash and even the injured Jerome Taylor might also be involved. Yes, it is hard to compete with the money on offer in India, but the England set-up found a workable compromise. The West Indies need to do the same.

In their absence, West Indies are overly reliant for their runs on Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 37, and Darren Bravo, who was dropped from the T20 side only six weeks ago due to a loss of form. The rest of the batting looks brittle - seasoned observers believe the standard of batting in the Caribbean has never been lower - and the top order will endure a searching examination against an excellent England attack on testing early summer pitches. It is asking a great deal of them overcome such obstacles. Too much.

There are, perhaps, some signs of improvement. India were given a scare in Delhi; Australia were pushed all the way in Bridgetown. Some believe that the coach and captain partnership of Ottis Gibson and Darren Sammy - who have only been together for 18-months - will reap rewards if they are given time. But patience is not limitless. West Indies have been in transition longer than continents. At some stage, brave losses will have to give way to actual victories or heads will roll.

In the long-term it may take a cultural shift for West Indies to show real improvement. It will require the next generation of players to develop the work ethic and fitness of their forerunners, it will require the departure of egos from the board and the union and it will require resolution to the franchise v country divide that has weakened them on this tour.

"There are some signs of improvement for West Indies. India were given a scare in Delhi, Australia were pushed all the way in Bridgetown"

For England this series presents something of a 'no win' scenario. Even a 3-0 victory will be seen as nothing more than regulation and any slip-up will be magnified. Victory is not just expected of them; it is demanded.

Underestimating their foe should not be an issue. Teams that have lost four of their last five Tests really should not have an ounce of complacency and several of the top order batsmen - Ian Bell and perhaps Kevin Pietersen among them - may feel they have points to prove after chastening winters.

There are issues to resolve. After a long period of stability, there are two or, perhaps, three positions available. Firstly Jonny Bairstow, benefiting from the injury to the desperately unfortunate Ravi Bopara, has an opportunity to seize the No. 6 position, while one of Steven Finn, Graham Onions and Tim Bresnan has an opportunity to claim the third seamer's spot. It bodes well for England that they have such competition for places. In James Anderson and Stuart Broad they have an outstanding opening pair in any conditions: in their own they are lethal.

And then there is Andrew Strauss. Unpalatable though some find it, the debate over Strauss' position will grow until he finds consistent form or steps down. England may get away with an underperforming opener against lesser opposition, but they did not against Pakistan and they will not against South Africa. The days of a Mike Brearley-style captain - and Strauss' average over the last 12 months is a distinctly Brearley-esque 26 - are as long gone as the days of specialist keepers. Strauss has the class, the backing and the work ethic to come again: it would solve a major headache if he ended the debate this series.

West Indies' decline brings no pleasure to any genuine cricket lover. With the possible exception of Pakistan, the Caribbean has produced more cricketers of flair than any region and the unifying power of the sport on people from the region cannot be overstated. Even the most fervent England supporter would delight in their resurgence. But any belief that such a return is imminent is born more of hope than expectation. Any team containing players as talented as Kemar Roach and Chanderpaul has a chance, but it will be a major surprise if England do not inflict a heavy defeat.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 17, 2012, 17:54 GMT

    @mrhamilton: I think his point was specifically about the fast bowling trio of Roach, Edwards, and Rampaul. Pakistan's attack is spin-focused, as indicated by your inclusion there of Rehman and Ajmal. He's not saying it's a better bowling attack overall than Pakistan, just that Windies have a crop of promising fast-bowlers.

    @George Dobell: Why must people keep harping on the fall of the West Indies? It's been two decades since their greatness, and none of the current players nor even their coach were part of the world-beating sides of the past. These are giants who have fallen; they are simply a decent band of players weighed down by an astounding legacy. I certainly think the Windies should draw inspiration from the teams of the 80's, but all of that is long gone and there is no getting it back. Not only have the Windies changed, the whole game has changed since then. The failure happened long ago. Let's not saddle the current young generation of players with the past.

  • Dummy4 on May 17, 2012, 16:23 GMT

    WCB has themselves to blame. Internal politics and poor management destroyed WI cricket.

  • anthony on May 17, 2012, 12:46 GMT

    I like reading dobells articles as I like windies cricket altho i am south african but his line that Quote "The West Indies squad of 2012 is not bad: they have the No. 1-rated Test batsman and a fast bowling attack the envy of every country but England, South Africa and Australia" Oh really??? none of the windies bowlers would get in even a amir/asif depleted Pakistan squad!!! Gul,Ajmal, Rehman,Junaid, cheema all seem better proven bowlers with a winning mentality.

  • alfred on May 17, 2012, 8:36 GMT

    @ inot, agree with you there man, losers of the highest order.

  • John on May 17, 2012, 7:22 GMT

    @Kirk O Douglas on (May 17 2012, 03:13 AM GMT), you seem to be forgetting two very important points. 1) England batted poorly against Pakistan but that was in UAE with the primary issue being the way they played good spin in spinning conditions. Even then they still bowled well. The England bowlers will get more assistance from early season English pitches and the batsmen are back on familiar ground without the threat of spin. Shillingford's OK but he's not going to pose the threat that Ajmal did on dry tracks. Even if Narine was playing, he wouldn't get the same assistance from the pitches as Ajmal did and England would likely play him with greater confidence at home anyway. 2) When WI played England "for the millions" it was not in Test cricket in England. WI just pushed Australia all tour and yet, while they drew the ODI and T20 series, they were only saved from a whitewash in the Test series by rain. Test cricket is a very different beast especially in away conditions.

  • Luke on May 17, 2012, 5:15 GMT

    Gee BravoBravo you're easy to please! Dobell is one of the worst of the lot; nothing revealing or revelational here - just obvious comment. England will absolutely smash West Indies. Granted WI will have Eng one for not many every time as Strauss is rubbish but England bat to 9 comfortably so despite heroics by Edwards and co WI won't be able to make enough inroads while their own top order is too inexperienced and woefully under-skilled. If rain doesn't hamper matches it will be innings victories every test. Trust me, as an Aussie I don't like saying that.

  • Dummy4 on May 17, 2012, 3:13 GMT

    I think that the England team is greatly over rated. There fear is that West Indies can pick a team of young players and still compete with the likes of India and Australi. Didnt England just played a series against Pakistan? The bottom line is that West Indies does not have much to play for. They proved that they were up to the job when they played England for the millions.

  • Dummy4 on May 17, 2012, 3:08 GMT

    West Indies made the Aussies tremble and They can defeat England if they bowl,feild and bat well Chanderpaul Gayle and Narine

  • Matthew on May 16, 2012, 23:07 GMT

    I think the only reason for England not inflicting a heavy defeat on the West Indies will either be down to complacency or the weather. It is sad to see Windies cricket in this state, and it's unfortunate that close defeats are seen more in a positive light. But I feel this tour will only benefit this young and inexperienced Windies squad. The bowling attack, if fully fit, can cause England problems and Chanders has always proved a difficult customer for English bowlers. A lot of people are saying that this a make or break series for Sammy as captain but the true acid test will be the home series with NZ that follows this one - a side who are also rebuilding and are at a similar level to the Windies. Hopefully by then some of 'exiled' players can be back playing for the Windies test side.

  • Dummy4 on May 16, 2012, 22:24 GMT

    Anyone reading this article must think that George Dobell is my brother...

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