Crunch game for under-pressure tourists
Match factsThursday February 26 - Monday March 2
Start time 10.00am (14.00GMT)
Big PictureEngland arrived in the Caribbean with a new captain, no coach, rumours about divisions within the squad, and no victories in any form of international cricket since September, and yet they somehow retained the vague belief that the trip would be a rest cure ahead of their busy summer schedule. Two matches (and ten superfluous deliveries) into the trip, and all such illusions have been shattered. West Indies' sensational victory in the first Test in Jamaica was followed last week by a thrilling draw in Antigua that revived their momentum after the embarrassment of the aborted Test at North Sound. From Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards to Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan, West Indies have mined a succession of big performances to leave them tantalisingly close to their first significant series win in six years.
As West Indies celebrated a great escape that felt like a victory at the ARG, England were left feeling broken and bereft. They had come so close to squaring the series, but now have no choice but to win back-to-back contests in Barbados and Trinidad if they are to emulate their 2003-04 achievement and triumph in the Caribbean. Moreover, they will have to start that process without the services of their inspirational allrounder, Andrew Flintoff, who compounded a hip injury while bowling 12 heroic but futile overs in the final innings at the ARG. Another absentee in Barbados is the wicketkeeper, Matt Prior, whose wife Emily has just given birth to their first son. The timing, though joyous for the Priors, is inopportune to say the least. Prior has been one of the batting successes of the tour, and with two sizeable absentees at Nos 6 and 7, England's task has just become that much harder.
Form guide (most recent first)West Indies DDWDD
Watch out for …Ramnaresh Sarwan: With scores of 107, 94 and 106 in three innings, there is no doubting who is the form batsman of the series - though even Sarwan himself would admit that with those totals he is selling himself short. His compact power and composure at the crease have allowed him to defend without ever retreating into his shell, and arguably his only false shot of the series was the wild slog that led to his first-innings downfall in Antigua. More of the same for the remainder of the series, and England's series hopes will recede ever further.
Tim Ambrose: He was always expecting to play at some stage in this series, after it was agreed that Prior would fly home to attend the birth of his first child, but the early arrival of Prior's first-born has brought Ambrose's recall forward by a game. It's a big moment for a man who seemed to have nailed down the wicketkeeping berth with his maiden Test hundred in Wellington last March, but then let his place slip during a disappointing home series against South Africa, in which his highest score in four Tests was 36.
Team newsTwo significant team changes have been forced on England, following Flintoff's hip injury and Prior's family priorities. Ambrose slots straight in at No. 7, but who can possibly hope to fill Flintoff's shoes? Ravi Bopara, who marked his late call-up with an attractive century in the two-day warm-up in Barbados, is the man in pole position, although an instant recall for Ian Bell cannot be discounted. Let's not forget, No. 6 was the position from which he scored three centuries in consecutive Tests against Pakistan in 2006. Graeme Swann, who has a floating piece of bone in his elbow, and Steve Harmison, whose back is suffering from "wear and tear", are both expected to be fit for selection.
England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Owais Shah, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Ravi Bopara, 7 Tim Ambrose (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 James Anderson, 10 Graeme Swann, 11 Steve Harmison.
Never change a winning team, as they say. Admittedly West Indies only drew in Antigua, but the spirit of togetherness that dragged them through an arduous final day cannot be discounted. On bowling form alone, Daren Powell would probably be due the chop after two lacklustre Tests, and yet it was his batting in both innings that really gave his side hope of saving the game. Ryan Hinds, who didn't convince at No. 4, is possibly under more threat. Lendl Simmons is still lurking after his 282 in the St Kitts warm-up.
West Indies (probable) 1 Chris Gayle (capt), 2 Devon Smith, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Ryan Hinds, 5 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 6 Brendan Nash, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Jerome Taylor, 9 Daren Powell, 10 Sulieman Benn, 11 Fidel Edwards.
Pitch and conditionsThe Kensington Oval produces the best pitches in the Caribbean and they still retain their pace and bounce. The expectation is that this surface, which has a covering of grass, will provide more for the quick bowlers. It has been watered a couple of times in the lead-up to the game and with the heavy showers around bowling first might be an option. The weather, meanwhile, has been a little unseasonal with frequent showers interrupting both team's practice sessions. No one is quite sure what it will do tomorrow, but be prepared for some delays.
Stats & Trivia
- The Kensington Oval was once known as Fortress Bridgetown because of West Indies' formidable record on the ground - they lost only one of their first 29 Tests on the ground, and were unbeaten for 59 years until England won by 208 runs in 1993-94.
- Since that England match, West Indies' Bridgetown record has been less formidable - seven defeats and three draws in 15 games, including their most recent loss against Australia in June 2008
- England's recent record on the ground is impressive. Two wins and a draw since 1993-94, including an eight-wicket victory in 2003-04 that was made memorable by a Matthew Hoggard hat-trick.
Quotes"West Indies are in a good state in the series, but we'd like to think we played most of the cricket in the last match."
Andrew Strauss doesn't believe the home side has any great advantage
"England will come at us even harder this time and we need to be consistently putting big totals on the board in the first innings."
West Indies coach John Dyson wants his team to avoid a repeat of the third Test
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo