England aim to test bench strength as Champions Trophy fine-tuning begins

A Curran in the Caribbean (44:37)

The Switch Hit team talk England's trip to the West Indies, sibling rivalry and Australia springing a surprise in Pune (44:37)

While nobody will be calling West Indies "mediocre" this time - they have surely learned their lesson - there is no doubt that England go into this three-match ODI series as strong favourites.

That is only partially a reflection of England's limited-overs resurgence. It also reflects West Indies' decline.

The grim facts are these (those of a nervous disposition should look away now): West Indies have not won a bilateral ODI series since 2014. Since 2008, when they defeated Sri Lanka, they have only enjoyed one ODI bilateral series victory against what might have been, until recently, one of the big eight (in 2012, against New Zealand). The last time they played ODI cricket, they failed to qualify for the finals of a tri-series involving Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. They didn't qualify for the 2016 ICC Champions Trophy and, unless they improve their ranking by the end of this September (they need to be in the top eight; they are currently ranked ninth), they will not qualify for the 2019 World Cup. They're not in a dry spell; they're in a famine.

But England are not used to the tag of favourites. They have improved fairly steadily since their 2015 World Cup performance - or lack of performance - but only now are people starting to talk about them as genuine contenders for the Champions Trophy. For the first time in a while - including, perhaps, the trip to Bangladesh - they are expected to win an away ODI series. With eight more ODIs before the Champions Trophy (these three, two against Ireland and three against South Africa), the time to stop talking about potential and start delivering results is upon them.

They are not at full strength, though. Without several seamers (David Willey, Reece Topley, Mark Wood and now Jake Ball, whose sore knee did not react well to training on Wednesday) this series presents an opportunity for fringe players to push for inclusion in that Champions Trophy squad.

England did think about calling up a left-arm option when Ball suffered his injury. Morgan rated Sam Curran as "the next in line" but concluded that Tom's "greater experience" and "probably higher skill level" was more important than variety. Willey and Topley are both expected to be fit before the end of April.

Wood won't be far away, either. But Morgan admits England are "looking into" keeping him out of red-ball cricket until the Champions Trophy is completed. Like a good portion of this team - Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler and Morgan himself - it seems the first red-ball cricket Wood will play will actually be the pink-ball round of floodlit games in the County Championship at the end of June. England's Ashes preparations will, effectively, start then. Until that time, the Champions Trophy is the priority and the team management have decided that playing in the IPL will be better preparation than playing in the County Championship.

"Exposing guys to tournaments like the IPL is absolute genius," Morgan said. "We want guys to get exposed to high-pressure situations in order to accelerate their learning, so that when it comes to big tournaments we can step up to the plate and produce our highest skill level."

In the meantime, several others have a chance to re-establish themselves. Steven Finn, who has not played an ODI since September 2015, is sure to play and Billings will be given another chance to establish himself at the top of the order, though Alex Hales could be back by the third ODI. Jonny Bairstow is putting increasing pressure on Billings but he is likely to remain on the outside for the first couple of games at least. Buttler had a quiet tour of India but, if he remains fit, he is certain to play in the Champions Trophy.

"We're spoiled for choice in the batting," Morgan said. "But the injuries have started testing our strength in our bowling.

"We've been a bit unlucky with injuries to the bowlers. We have a good crop of guys. We've always said we've 16 or 17 people who can play. We're stretching the limits of that at the moment, but our batting's certainly in the right space."

Chris Jordan was also described as "in the reckoning" for the bowling spot. "He's been brilliant for us in T20," Morgan said. "He can bowl at the start, in the middle and at the end. And he was talked about. But we felt that Tom was the right call."

Conditions might prove something of a leveller, too. There is a little more grass on the Antigua pitch than was anticipated, but it remains likely to be low, slow and, consequently, is unlikely to present the high-scoring opportunities England have enjoyed in England and India. As a result, there may be a need to curb England's all-out aggression just a touch.

"It certainly won't be as free-flowing as it has been," Morgan agreed. "But our principles as a side will remain the same. We want to put the opposition under pressure the whole time. The emphasis here will be getting two men in at the crease. That's very important because, the pitches we're anticipating playing on, you can lose wickets in clusters and having two men in and taking advantage of their position is going to be key. That doesn't mean to say we still can't score 350 or 300.

"I'd like to think we have the attributes to win the Champions Trophy. If we have a fully fit squad we have the attributes: the balance of the attack with a combination of good spin bowlers and a very strong batting line-up. But now it's a matter of getting results and producing our best."