England have felt the heat from West Indies' resurgent battery of quicks on more than one occasion in recent years, most notably during heavy defeats in Barbados and Antigua 18 months ago. The fires stoked by Kemar Roach, Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder have drawn comparison with West Indies attacks of old, and the team's assistant coach, Roddy Estwick agreed that Caribbean fast-bowling stocks were at their highest since the 1980s.
Roach, notably, dismantled England with match figures of 8 for 82 at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in 2019, having claimed 5 for 17 as the tourists were shot out for 77 the week before in Bridgetown, and has already indicated he is keen to "get stuck into them" again on this tour. While his regular new-ball partner Gabriel is currently working his way back from an ankle injury, young talents Alzarri Joseph and Chemar Holder - described by coach Phil Simmons as a potential "great of West Indies cricket" - are also in the squad to face England.
Gabriel could still come into contention if he can prove his fitness, while alongside him in West Indies' 11-man back-up group are the likes of Oshane Thomas, Anderson Phillip and Keon Harding. Even without Jofra Archer, who played for West Indies U19s but will line-up for England, such strength in depth suggests the Caribbean is once again "blessed" with pace options.
"The fast bowling is very key to us," Estwick said. "Shannon, Jason, Alzarri, Kemar. The four big fast bowlers, they're here but what we've [also] got on this tour is a group of youngsters coming through: Chemar Holder, Oshane Thomas, Anderson Phillip. We're beginning to get blessed with fast bowlers again in the West Indies, so that's an exciting time for us. So we're looking forward to this series and looking forward to seeing how the fast bowlers go."
Roach's importance becomes clear when you look at the performances of West Indies' quicks since he returned to the Test set-up in 2017, on their last tour of England. In that period, only a handful of fast bowlers have taken their wickets at a better strike rate than Roach's 45.6. Not far behind are Holder (45.9) and Gabriel (47.6), while England's most penetrative seamer over the same timeframe is 37-year-old James Anderson, who strikes every 53.4 balls.
Estwick has worked regularly with Roach, Gabriel and Holder since he was first appointed bowling coach in 2016, and said that they now had the necessary combination of fitness and experience to challenge batting line-ups around the world.