Low expectations for West Indies
May 17-21, Lord's
Start time 1100 (1000GMT)
The Big Picture
The days when a West Indies series began with the expectation they would inflict a blackwash are long gone. Now they begin a series with many expecting they will be whitewashed. Unless weather intervenes, anything other than an England cleansweep is likely to be viewed as a missed opportunity.
There are valid reasons for that. England are at home in early season conditions against a West Indies team that have been hindered by rain and late arrivals during their preparation. Despite a difficult winter, where they lost four out of five Tests, England remain a formidable team with arguably the strongest pace-bowling resources in the world.
Yet, perhaps West Indies are not being given their due. Between the politics and batting collapses there have been a few signs that this team are starting to gel under the leadership of Darren Sammy. The 2-0 defeat against Australia looked comfortable for the visitors last month but they were tested on many occasions. In Fidel Edwards, Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul, West Indies have a strong trio of pace bowlers. If only they could put consistent runs on the board. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, despite being the No. 1 Test batsman, should not have to do it all on his own.
For England's standing in Test cricket - where they remain No. 1 by the skin of their teeth - they need to dominate this series. Not all the players have hit the ground running in the County Championship this season, notably the openers Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, and that could provide an opening for West Indies. Ultimately, though, the depth of the home side should prevail.
Form guide(Most recent first)
West Indies LDLDL
Watch out for...
James Anderson was named England's Player of the Year on Monday and is now rivalling Dale Steyn as the leading pace bowler in the world. If he stays fit, Ian Botham's England record of 383 wickets is within his sights and he will expect to boost his tally against a flaky West Indies top order.
Darren Bravo has a huge part to play alongside Shivnarine Chanderpaul in the middle order. His twin fifties against England Lions in Northampton gave an English audience the first glimpse of his huge talent, but West Indies need him to convert into three figures on the Test stage - a skill he has already shown at the top level.
Unless the hosts decide to be really bold and select five frontline bowlers, Jonny Bairstow will make his Test debut at No. 6 to become the 13th father-son combination to play Tests for England. Then the only decision is who supports Anderson and Stuart Broad. Tim Bresnan may just be leading the race ahead of Steven Finn and Graham Onions.
England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Jonny Bairstow, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Tim Bresnan, 9 Stuart Broad, 10 Graeme Swann, 11 James Anderson
Ottis Gibson has hinted at a four-man pace attack for West Indies with Shane Shillingford, the offspinner, missing out despite his impressive comeback against Australia. There have been some niggles in the camp over the last week and Ravi Rampaul did not take a full part in training on Wednesday. Narsingh Deonarine is the man in possession at No. 6 but his late arrival may count against him.
West Indies (probable) 1 Adrian Barath, 2 Kieran Powell, 3 Kirk Edwards, 4 Darren Bravo, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Marlon Samuels, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Darren Sammy (capt), 9 Kemar Roach, 10 Ravi Rampaul, 11 Fidel Edwards
Pitch and conditions
Chris Adams, the Surrey team director, was highly critical of a Championship pitch at Lord's earlier in the season. It has been tough for Mick Hunt, the groundsman, with all the wet weather around but there is rarely a concern about one of his Test strips. At Lord's it is often a question of looking up, not down. If it is cloudy expect help for swing bowling.
Stats and trivia
- West Indies have not won an away series against anyone other than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in 17 years
- They have not won a Test at Lord's since 1988 when Malcolm Marshall took 10 wickets in the match
- England have churned out hundreds at Lord's in recent years; since 2006 they have hit 24 with Kevin Pietersen scoring five, while Alastair Cook and Matt Prior have three apiece
- This is the first Test for new MCC chief executive Derek Brewer
For a full stats preview click here
"I'm excited about the challenges ahead, to come out at Lord's again, and I'm hoping we will all show what we're capable of this summer."
Andrew Strauss looks forward rather than back
"Pressure could make you crumble; pressure could make you rise above your expectations - and I know Strauss is a strong guy mentally."
Darren Sammy has no doubts about Strauss
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo