England continue their preparation for the upcoming Champions Trophy with a three-match ODI series in the West Indies, starting on Friday.
Eoin Morgan’s men have had time to reflect following their 2-1 series defeat in India. It was an enthralling three matches, full of high scores, high drama and close finishes. England certainly gave a good account of themselves, making scores of 350, 366 and 321 and once again proving that their ‘no fear’ approach to one-day cricket has no intention of holding up.
While the batting remains imperiously strong, the bowling department can certainly be considered a weakness. Predicable Test match lengths, along with a lack of variation proved easy pickings for most of the Indian batsmen throughout that series. Admittedly, many other teams have committed similar crimes in a country where winning in any format has been a challenge like no other in recent times. Yet if England want to be the best side in the world, which is undoubtedly the aim, their bowling attack must show signs of improvement.
And that is why this brief tour of the West Indies is important. It is a chance, not only for the batsmen to continue their form from the previous series, but it also presents a chance for England’s bowlers to show that they have learned from their brutal past experiences. With a home Champions Trophy on the horizon, England have arguably never had a better chance of winning a major 50-over tournament and if certain weaknesses in their side are addressed, that dream of triumph would become more realistic.
West Indies will provide stiff opposition, though. And despite their lack of progress in the Test arena, along with the ongoing team dispute with the nation’s cricket board, they remain an extremely talented side in the shorter formats of the game. Several members of the side that snatched the World T20 title from England last year are expected to play in this series and they will likely be looking to inflict more pain on the away side this time around. England will have to play at their best to beat such an unpredictable, yet powerful outfit. It should be a fascinating contest.
It has certainly been an eventful past few weeks for Stokes. His mega £1.7 million IPL with the Rising Pune Supergiants, making him the most expensive foreign player ever in the competition, caught the attention of many around the globe. While his price tag may have been surprising, the demand for his services was not. His ability to perform at a high standard in all three facets of the game has made him such a valuable asset during his rise to stardom in international cricket.
Back on the field, Stokes has a chance to reiterate the reasons why he is such an important figure in England’s side. The all-rounder averaged 60 in the ODI series in India, striking at 146.34 – the highest strike rate of any player with more than a hundred runs over the three matches. With the ball, Stokes was a touch on the expensive side but still managed to pick up five wickets, with his value as a fifth bowler proving essential. In addition, the renewed rivalry between Stokes and Carlos Brathwaite, the man that broke England and Stokes’ hearts in that World T20 final, should be an intriguing one to watch.
The Warwickshire man was arguably England’s best bowler in India, finishing as the top wicket-taker in the series (6) with the best average also (29.83). Woakes bowled with impressive pace, hostility, and control early on, making regular early inroads into the Indian top order. The were signs of progress at the death, too, as he held his nerve in the final over of the third ODI at Kolkata to seal a consolation victory for England.
Given his performances in that series, Woakes may now be considered as the leader of England’s ODI attack. And given the inconsistencies of fellow seamers Jake Ball and Liam Plunkett, the lack of game-time for Steven Finn and fact that David Willey is being regularly underbowled, it would be hard to disagree with that particular notion. Early breakthroughs, as usual, will be crucial in this series and England will look to Woakes to deliver just that, as well as spearhead this bowling line-up.
Despite Alex Hales joining up with the squad, recovery from his hand injury may take a little longer and therefore the opener is likely to sit out the first game. That would mean Sam Billings partnering Jason Roy at the top of the order and Jonny Bairstow, despite scoring 86 as an opener in the final practice match, missing out.
Seamer Jake Ball has a slight knee injury and is unlikely be risked for this match. Steven Finn is expected to return to the side in his place as one of the four seamers, with Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid completing the spin attack.
- Jason Roy
- Sam Billings
- Joe Root
- Eoin Morgan (c)
- Jos Buttler (wk)
- Ben Stokes
- Moeen Ali
- Chris Woakes
- Adil Rashid
- Liam Plunkett
- Steven Finn