West Indies in England 2009 April 20, 2009

West Indies must make use of long warm-up

West Indies cricketers better be down to business from ball one this morning in Leicester if they are to make the most of the busiest lead-in to a Test series away from home for nine years

So, is this a case of fete over back to work, or work over back to fete?

Whatever the attitude here after the Fifth Summit of the Americas, the West Indies cricketers better be down to business from ball one this morning in Leicester if they are to make the most of the busiest lead-in to a Test series away from home for nine years.

It's ironic isn't it? On the last campaign to England in 2007, West Indies had just one three-day fixture scheduled ahead of the first match of a four-Test series. This time around, for a series of just two Tests that was only possible after the Sri Lankan authorities announced last year that they were pulling out of their team's scheduled trip due to most of their top players being contracted to the second season of the Indian Premier League, the visitors have been assigned three first-class matches encompassing ten days of competitive cricket before the first ball is bowled at Lord's on May 6.

Of course, it is quite possible, and indeed almost expected, that inclement weather will affect the build-up. Still, West Indies can have no complaints on this occasion about preparation time, especially as that lone warm-up match two years ago against Somerset was reduced to just 48 overs by bad weather.

In fact, the last time a West Indian side had as many as three first-class fixtures preceding a Test series was on the 2000 tour, also of England, where the team led by Jimmy Adams swept to an innings victory inside three days in the first Test at Edgbaston but went rapidly downhill thereafter and surrendered the Wisden Trophy in losing the rubber by a 3-1 margin.

Now they are back there as holders of the prize, thanks to a determined effort in the four-match duel in the Caribbean just a few weeks ago and, it has to be acknowledged, a measure of complacency by an England squad that was looking too far ahead to the Ashes battle with Australia.

It would therefore be the height of criminal sporting negligence by Andrew Strauss' side to again be less than fully committed to the two Tests against West Indies. Anyway, the English can deal with their own stories however they want. What West Indies head coach John Dyson has to do is ensure that the side he is moulding into an increasingly competitive unit can continue making these encouragingly incremental improvements in a series that is so brief that there will be little opportunity to make amends for one bad period of play.

Try as they did over the next three matches, England could not redress the balance after two nightmarish hours on the fourth day of the first Test at Sabina Park, so it has to be appreciated that the margin for error at Lord's and then at the Chester-le-Street ground up in Durham will be considerably narrower.

With captain Chris Gayle, along with fast bowler Fidel Edwards, involved with their respective teams in the IPL in South Africa over the next ten days, tour vice-captain Denesh Ramdin takes on the responsibility of captaincy from today against Leicestershire and also for the following three-day match at Chelmsford against Essex and then the final warm-up, a four-day encounter against the England "A" team, which carries the title of the "England Lions", at Derby.

While he will have team management for support and someone like former captain Ramnaresh Sarwan available for on-field consultation, this will be another test of the 24-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman's credentials as a future senior West Indies captain, a challenging position that no less a personality than Sir Vivian Richards has already suggested he is capable of taking on.

That senior batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul and another pacer, Jerome Taylor, have been given a few extra days leave before joining the squad later this week, no doubt makes Ramdin's stand-in job a bit more challenging. Then again, he should be looking upon it as an opportunity to shine in the same way that other members of the squad must do in the absence of the senior quartet.

For the uncapped trio of opening batsman Dale Richards and fast bowlers Andrew Richardson and Nelon Pascal, together with Lendl Simmons (Test debutant just last month at Queen's Park Oval), these are chances not to be squandered. In working towards being more and more competitive again at Test level, having players banging on the selectors' door on tour is one of the best ways to create the sort of environment where complacency is not allowed to take root.

Make no mistake. West Indies will face a real battle on their hands to retain the Wisden Tophy, especially if it is cold and miserable. If it is also rainy, well, that may actually help the tourists' cause. However, praying for rain doesn't actually fit into the strategy of any serious team, even in England. And if the former undisputed champions of the game want to confirm that the recent triumph in the Caribbean was no fluke, a concerted effort in the two Tests will do just that.

In pursuit of that objective, every single day of play leading up to May 6 should be approached with the sort of intensity and purpose that sends the message that, in the same way the hemispheric leaders in Port of Spain surely would have recognised, performance is the most effective way to respond to the critics.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad