Harmison set for instant recall
Steve Harmison is in line for an instant return to England's bowling attack after being left out of the side at North Sound on Friday morning, after the captain Andrew Strauss hinted that pragmatism would dictate team selection as England look to bounce back from their humiliating innings defeat in Jamaica last week.
Harmison was left out of the side for the second Test at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium on Friday morning, as England opted for the skiddy swing of James Anderson on a pitch that was expected to be low and slow. In the event, Anderson never got the opportunity to prove his worth as the match was abandoned after ten deliveries due to a dangerous outfield.
Now, however, the action switches to the Antigua Recreation Ground, where both teams practiced in the build-up to the second Test. The nets, as it happens, were erected on the same square where the Test will now take place, and the amount of pace and carry that was on offer to the faster men has persuaded England to think about bringing Harmison, their most hostile option, back into the fold.
"I think the players are reasonably understanding to think that the XI you pick is the one that you think is going to give you the best chance of winning the Test match," said Strauss. "Any wicket that offers the chance of a result is good for us at this stage, being 1-0 down in the series. If there is a bit of pace and bounce then we've got bowlers that can exploit that."
Such a scenario would be unfortunate for Anderson, who had been a regular selection for England ever since the Wellington Test in New Zealand last March, until his omission in favour of Ryan Sidebottom at Sabina Park last week. "It is not ideal being picked one day and then not being picked two days later if we make a change, but that is something we'll have to decide on," said Strauss. "No-one likes being left out by any means but I'm sure they'll be understanding about it. In different conditions that means different personnel."
Ever since the likelihood of an abandonment emerged on Friday morning, England have been determined that the show must go on, largely for the sake of the 6000 England fans who have made their way out to Antigua to watch some cricket. "It's the best solution that was available, although that doesn't mean it is ideal," said Strauss. "We practised on the ground for a few days before the Test match and the wicket seemed very playable, the outfield was not brilliant but not dangerous to the bowlers, so it's a better solution than what we had first time around."
The ICC match referee, Alan Hurst, is expected to rubber-stamp the venue at 5pm local time, but Strauss retained his right to raise any concerns if the conditions are notably sub-standard. "I think it is the same situation as the other day," he said. "If bowlers can't bowl at full pace or if there is a significant chance of injury to players on the pitch then it is my duty as captain to say 'this isn't right for us to be playing on it'. As players we are generally happy to get on with it in most circumstances but no-one wants to see a career threatening injury just for the sake of trying to put a Test match on.
For West Indies' captain, Chris Gayle, the most pressing issue is neither the conditions nor team selection, but the rediscovery of the momentum that his side took from Jamaica but lost, through no fault of their own, on that fateful morning in North Sound.
"This requires new focus," said Gayle. "Our main focus now is about playing at the Antigua Recreation Ground. It is not too difficult because we are here to play cricket and it is the same gameplan we had before. It's a new venue but we have to be ready for it and hopefully we can get things right again."
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.
West Indies (probable) 1 Chris Gayle (capt), 2 Devon Smith, 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.