LONDON, (Reuters) – Against all the odds, West Indies will arrive at Lord’s today with their eyes on a first Test series victory in England since 1988 after a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.
Beaten out of sight in the first day-night test in England at Edgbaston, where they lost 19 wickets on the third and last day, the visitors rebounded in thrilling fashion at Headingley.
Eyes will now be on Jason Holder’s young team, and double centurion Shai Hope in particular, to see if they can build on that triumph, which took even seasoned pundits by surprise.
Former England paceman Gladstone Small, who was born in Barbados, said the result at Headingley would have given West Indies “inner belief”.
“Can they carry it on though? That’s the question,” Small told Reuters at a charity cricket event to raise awareness of the increased risk of prostate cancer in black men.
“The spotlight is on them now and we will see whether they can be competitive on a consistent basis. England are a very good team but they are also struggling for consistency, which is what you need to become a great team.”
Joe Root’s England will also be under close observation as a series that looked like being a walkover has suddenly taken on greater significance with an Ashes series in Australia looming.
Nagging doubts about the solidity of the top order resurfaced at Headingley, where Windies pacemen Shannon Gabriel and Kemar Roach bowled superbly to dismiss England for 258 in their first innings after Root had won the toss and batted.
Of most concern is a reliable opening partner for Alastair Cook with Mark Stoneman having failed to nail down the spot with scores of eight, 19 and 52 so far in the series.
Essex batsman Tom Westley also needs a big score to have any chance of convincing the selectors that he should be on the plane to Australia later this year. England’s chastened attack will be anxious to put the record straight too after being unable to prevent West Indies reaching their target of 322 in the second innings at Leeds to claim a five-wicket victory.
James Anderson was expected to bag his 500th Test wicket but went wicket less in the second innings to remain three short of becoming the sixth bowler to reach that mark.
The 35-year-old, speaking before his 129th Test for England, said his priority was for England to win the game.
“I am a big believer in fate so if it’s meant to be this week then it will happen,” Anderson said. “As long as we get the win I’m not too fussed.”
Root’s decision to declare England’s second innings at Headingley on 490-8 a few over before the end of the fourth day helped set up a thrilling spectacle, although some have questioned the wisdom of such an attacking option.
The Yorkshireman will want to put that conversation to bed by claiming a second series victory of his first summer in charge, having already steered his side past South Africa.