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Under-trial England seek red-ball relief

A two-day tour match in St. Kitts is England's first stop in a five-month stretch of cricket that could decide the futures of Alastair Cook and Peter Moores

If selected for the first warm-up game, it seems safe to assume Jonathan Trott will make his 50th Test appearance in Antigua  •  Michael Steele/Getty Images

If selected for the first warm-up game, it seems safe to assume Jonathan Trott will make his 50th Test appearance in Antigua  •  Michael Steele/Getty Images

Like the M1 and Donatella Versace, it seems the England side is in a constant state of reconstruction.
Less than two years since they won an Ashes series 3-0 and reached the final of a global ODI tournament, England's captain and coach are - again - fighting for their futures.
But amid the debris of England's World Cup campaign - "campain" might be a better description - it could be forgotten that the team have actually won their last three Tests. That they have, in Gary Ballance, Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler the foundations of a decent batting line-up for years to come and that James Anderson, for all his problems with the white ball, bowled as well as ever with the red one towards the end of last summer.
The morale of English cricket as a whole may be low, but the Test side is, by some distance, in better health than the limited-overs teams.
The fate of the current England team management - certainly this captain and coach - will be decided over the next five months. In that time, they will play Test series against West Indies, New Zealand and Australia. Victory in two of the three could probably be considered a decent return, though the Ashes remains - probably incorrectly - the barometer by which much in English cricket is judged.
To reach the Ashes, though, England's management need good results in the Caribbean. With Colin Graves, the incoming chairman of the ECB, having already - and rather unhelpfully - suggested that West Indies offer "mediocre" opposition and that defeat will provoke "some enquiries", Peter Moores, in particular, will know that failure here will leave his position most precarious.
It is true that West Indies are not the fearsome proposition they once were. And it is true that they will be weakened by the absence of some players on IPL duty. But they still produce players with huge amounts of natural talent - not least fast bowlers - and they did win the last series at home against England (in early 2009) 1-0. Under Phil Simmons, their new coach who did such a tremendous job with limited resources in Ireland - they are at the start of a rebuilding job themselves, but it is foolishness to underestimate them.
This first of two two-day warm-up matches in St Kitts from Monday will - subject to agreement between both team managers - be a 12-a-side encounter. While England would, in an ideal world, like to ensure everyone is match-ready for the Test series, they are also aware that they have little time to prepare for their first Test since August. The 12 named here will, therefore, provide a strong hint of the likely Test side. It is possible that the second two-day match, starting on Wednesday, will feature England players on both sides.
The pitch for the warm-up games is expected to be slow, but the Test track in Antigua is said to be quicker than it has been previously - though that is not saying much - and offer less assistance to spin than was widely anticipated. For that reason, England will probably play only one spinner - and judging by Adil Rashid's performance in the nets, that spinner will be James Tredwell - with Moeen Ali expected to join up with the squad ahead of the second Test in Grenada.
England may well send a few of this squad home before the end of the tour. If it becomes clear that there is little prospect of them taking any part, they will be sent back to county cricket and considered for the ODI in Ireland on May 8. While James Taylor is currently the most likely captain for that match, the likes of Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad could all be considered if not required in the Caribbean. James Vince - who impressed on the Lions tour - is another possibility.
Broad will probably start the series, but can no longer be viewed as an automatic selection in any England side. While he still shows flashes of the great fast bowler he might have become, his diminished pace has compromised his effectiveness and he no longer has any pretensions as a batsman. Mark Wood, bowling with good pace and swinging the ball, has been most impressive in training here and was the stand-out seamer on the Lions trip, but Liam Plunkett looked especially hostile and unusually swift. Chris Jordan, too, offers swing and some pace. Broad is currently looking over his shoulder at all of them.
If Trott plays here - and the fact that he opened with Alastair Cook in middle practice indicates he may well - it seems safe to assume he will make his 50th Test appearance in Antigua. While he owes his recall, in the main, to the weight of runs he has scored in county cricket since his recovery, his long-standing relationship with Cook may also have been a factor.
Last summer Cook found, just as Eoin Morgan did at the World Cup, that he could not always rely on his senior players - Anderson and Broad, in particular - when they were most required. With Matt Prior and Graeme Swann gone, Cook will be looking to Trott and Ian Bell to provide experience and stability on and off the pitch. Adam Lyth, an exceptional catcher and attractive batsman, might be in for a frustrating few weeks.
Most of Cook's problems will melt away if he scores runs. There are many ways to lead and Cook showed, in helping England to victory in India in 2012, that his methods - by example and by taking responsibility for his side's run-scoring - could work just fine.
If he scores heavily here - and he has half-centuries in three of his last four Test innings but no century since May 2013 - all the talk about Kevin Pietersen and all the unfavourable comparisons with Michael Clarke and Brendon McCullum will abate.
If he doesn't, England could yet go into the Ashes with a new captain and coach.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo