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February 12, 2009
There is a certain irony that it is West Indies, the winners by an innings and 23 runs in Kingston, who are the side certain to make a swap after Xavier Marshall was left out of their squad following his second-ball duck last week. Either Lendl Simmons or Ryan Hinds could replace him in the middle order, but both may still play in a reshaped batting line-up.
Devon Smith, who failed to sight Andrew Flintoff's yorker and was given out via the TV referral, is the other batsman under threat as West Indies continue their search for a steady partner for Chris Gayle. Simmons certainly has form behind him following his 282 for West Indies A earlier in England's tour. He made those runs on a flat, lifeless pitch in St Kitts, but as those are the conditions expected in neighbouring Antigua as well, that shouldn't be a major concern.
"We have good momentum going into the game but we aren't going in too relaxed or over-confident," Gayle said. "We still have a lot of games to play and this game is very important. England will look to rebound and make some sort of statement and it's up to us to keep them at the same level as they are right now.
"We definitely want to stop them coming back too strongly. We wanted to get a head start which isn't something that has happened too often. We have to try and capitalise on it. The last time we had a start like this was in South Africa and we lost the series 2-1. Hopefully we can keep the advantage."
Having players like Simmons and Hinds to call on indicates a depth to West Indies' reserves that hasn't previously been available. It also shows the value of having the first-class tournament running concurrently with the Test series. Hinds has been averaging over 80 this season, which has brought him back to the selectors' attention.
What England would give for such in-form luxuries, but instead they have to fall back on the limited options available to them in the 16-man squad. Owais Shah is the lone batting reserve and it would be criminal if he did not replace the devoid-of-confidence Ian Bell. Andrew Strauss didn't give anything away, but admitted that form would have to come into consideration.
"We've got few permutations for tomorrow. The wicket has changed from yesterday quite dramatically so we'll have to see how it is in the morning," Strauss said. "There may well be a change. There have been conversations in the last few days over form as well.
"Clearly when you are bowled out for 51 you've got to start thinking about the form. I'm not going to lie and say it's all about the conditions, but given that we aren't 100% on the conditions we aren't going to come to any rash decisions."
While Shah for Bell is the obvious switch, changes are also possible in the bowling line-up for a surface that has had any trace of grass rolled into the spongy surface. Conceivably the same five who pounded in for 157 overs in Kingston could be retained - all were steady, none were awful and Stuart Broad was impressive.
However, the lack of wickets for Monty Panesar - outbowled one scalp to eight by Sulieman Benn - remains a concern because England need wicket-taking options with the old ball. Last year Brett Lee took a bag of wickets in the West Indies with reverse swing which could bring James Anderson back into the equation in place of Steve Harmison or Ryan Sidebottom.
"Obviously what happened last week wasn't ideal by any stretch of the imagination and we have to come back and level the series," Strauss said. "There were a couple of tough days after the Test, understandably, but the guys have turned it round well. They are very keen to get out there and walk the walk rather than talk the talk.
"We've had a couple of meetings that were fairly honest affairs. But I'm of the opinion that meetings can only take you so far. You can say whatever you want to say but the key is to get out here under pressure and perform. It's like getting back on the bike."
The England team bicycle is in desperate need of some stabilisers and victory here would certainly help stop the wobble. First, though, they need to get past a home side which has already passed its proficiency test.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?