West Indies v England, 2nd Test, Antigua February 12, 2009

Regrouping after the rout


Jerome Taylor: England's first-Test destroyer aims to cause more agonising for his opponents © Getty Images
 

Match facts

Friday February 13 - Tuesday February 17
Start time 10.00am (14.00GMT)

Big Picture

At Sabina Park last week, two decades of West Indian decline were rolled back on a single stunning Saturday afternoon. With Jerome Taylor bowling fast and full, and Sulieman Benn redefining the role of the 6'7" beanpole of yesteryear, England were routed as comprehensively as at any time in their (often one-sided) history of beatings in the Caribbean. Their disastrous second innings of 51 all out, the third-lowest score in England's Test history, capped a desperate six weeks which began with an off-field debacle of equal magnitude - the dual departure of the captain, Kevin Pietersen, and the coach, Peter Moores. England can only hope that this time they really have hit rock-bottom, because if there is any further to fall, it's hard to see where the recovery will begin.

As for West Indies, they arrive in Antigua with a spring in their step and further payback on their minds. Antigua, of course, was where their current renaissance really began, back in November, with their thumping victory over England in the Stanford Super Series. The lessons learned - particularly the need for professionalism, discipline and team spirit - have been carried forward with enthusiasm, and the whole region has been given a fillip by their exploits. What would England give for a bit of the same?

Form guide (most recent first)

West Indies WDDLD
England LDLWL

Watch out for…

Jerome Taylor produced the spell of his life in front of his home fans at Sabina Park. His full-length, late-swinging, stump-threatening aggression made light of a slow pitch and gave England's batsmen nothing to work with. It was a spell far removed from West Indies' bouncer-laden attacks of years gone by - if anything it was reminiscent of Pakistan's yorker-orientated approach in the early 1990s - but the result was every bit as devastating.

Andrew Strauss endured a nervy reintroduction to a role he performed with aplomb in his last incarnation as England captain in 2006 and 2007. He failed to lead from the front as a batsman as he was dismissed cheaply in both innings, and found the going tough in the field as well, especially while Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan were adding 202 for West Indies' second wicket. He has already set a new record for the shortest honeymoon in English captaincy history, and will be desperate to assert himself before the series reaches its halfway mark.


James Anderson hopes for his chance in Antigua, but Steve Harmison could yet hold him off © Getty Images
 

Team news

Owais Shah must surely get his opportunity this time. He has been an England squad member since the 2001 Ashes, and he made his Test debut in India in March 2006. But his only other Test came against West Indies at Lord's in 2007, a match in which he was an all-too-brief stand-in for Michael Vaughan, and blew his opportunity with a pair of nervy innings, 6 and 4. This time, barring disasters, the berth is his for the duration of the tour, if not longer, because patience with Ian Bell has finally run out. As for the rest of the order, they have hardly covered themselves in glory, but with no other realistic batting replacements, Alastair Cook can expect a stay of execution. Likewise Steve Harmison, whose Caribbean memories might yet be sparked into life, although James Anderson is very much in contention.

England (probable) 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Owais Shah, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Andrew Flintoff, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Ryan Sidebottom, 10, Steve Harmison, 11 Monty Panesar

Lendl Simmons' two-day 282 in England's final warm-up in St Kitts remains fresh in the selectors' minds, especially after the failure of Xavier Marshall, whose second-ball duck was the only duff note in a consummate West Indian team performance. Simmons would fit the bill as an opening partner for Gayle, pushing the luckless Dale Richards clean out of the equation, after he was slated for a debut at Kingston until an untimely foot injury. Another option would be the spinning allrounder, Ryan Hinds, in the middle order, which would leave Devon Smith on the sidelines as well.

West Indies (probable) 1 Chris Gayle (capt), 2 Lendl Simmons, 3 Ramnaresh Sarwan, 4 Shivnarine Chanderpaul, 5 Brendan Nash, 6 Ryan Hinds, 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Jerome Taylor, 9 Daren Powell, 10 Sulieman Benn, 11 Fidel Edwards

Pitch & conditions

It's not looking promising at the Sir Vivian Richards stadium in North Sound. The ground has not been fit for practice for the last few days - England have been decamping to the decaying Antigua Recreation Ground for their net sessions - and there are some serious concerns about the patchy, sand-based outfield, the nature of which has revived unpleasant memories of Simon Jones' gruesome knee injury at the Gabba in 2002-03. As for the wicket itself, it looks like rolled mud, and is expected to play as such. Slow, low, and lifeless.

Stats & Trivia

  • There has been a solitary Test match played at North Sound, in June last year, when Australia were the visitors in a drab affair.
  • England have themselves played two matches at the ground, both during the 2007 World Cup. They lost by seven wickets against Australia, and two runs against Sri Lanka.
  • Antigua's old ground, the ARG, was famously the scene of Brian Lara's two world records against England - 375 in 1993-94 and 400 not out a decade later. The current captain, Chris Gayle, also made a triple century on the island - 317 against South Africa in 2004-05

    Quotes

    "It's not in an ideal state, that's fair to say, but there are plenty of more important things for us to be thinking about than the state of the outfield."
    England's captain, Andrew Strauss, offers a realistic take on England's latest obstacle.

    "Everyone is aware of what is happening, it's not down to me to keep reminding them what their responsibilities are."
    Strauss's counterpart, Chris Gayle, keeps West Indian feet on the ground.

    "It was just one of those days."
    Ian Bell's indifferent response to England's calamitous display at Sabina Park is just one reason why his place in the side is no longer a certainty.

    Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo