Here’s a clash of the heavyweights to make the mouth water (assuming the water that’s currently on the Hampshire Bowl outfield deigns to recede in good time, of course). A tussle between two of the hardest-hitting batting line-ups in the tournament, not to mention some of the fastest, nastiest bowlers on display in this World Cup (a prospect that, for differing reasons, has probably taken some seasoned observers somewhat by surprise).
All this is due to unfold on one of the best batting surfaces in the country – a venue where England shared 734 runs with Pakistan on their last trip to Southampton in May. And given the fireworks that these two teams laid on in the Caribbean earlier this year, there could be few better settings for what, among other things, could also be seen as an unofficial series decider – with the sides locked at 2-2 after an astonishing one-day leg of England’s tour in February, the winner clearly stands to take it all in terms of bragging rights.
The jeopardy of the contest has been heightened by the events of the last few days. Australia’s defeat of Pakistan has propelled their curiously ill-balanced but spirited band of brawlers right into the semi-final mix, while the wash-out between India and New Zealand – the two remaining unbeaten teams – is a blow to those around them who would have been anticipating one or other dropping a full two points up at Trent Bridge.
Instead they’ve both consolidated their statuses by a point, which means that if (IF!) there is a positive result in Southampton, the negative effect on the losers will be exacerbated. Certainly England will have earmarked this contest as an “ought to win”, given that their last three fixtures of the group stage are arguably the toughest of the lot, against India, Australia and New Zealand.
Meanwhile West Indies, who tripped up from a commanding position against Australia and then were thwarted by the rain against South Africa, will need something more positive than three points to show for their enterprising start to the campaign, especially with fixtures against India and New Zealand still to come, not to mention their next outing, in Taunton on Monday, coming against the Bangladesh team that pipped them in the tri-series in Ireland last month.
But, as the players themselves will doubtless be reminded, all that matters in this World Cup is the team that’s in front of you on the day. And the dramatis personae on both sides makes for a compelling cast-list. The power of Chris Gayle on the one hand, versus the panache of Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow on the other; the silky speed of Jofra Archer versus the brutalist architecture of the fearsome Oshane Thomas.
The savagery of Andre Russell’s six-hitting versus the preposterous boundary-plundering of Jos Buttler; the cultured anchor roles that Shai Hope and Joe Root can provide for their respective sides. And not to mention the battle of the captains, Eoin Morgan and Jason Holder, two of the most impressive leaders of men in the world game, whose tactical nous is matched by the degree to which they’ve managed to mould teams in their own image.
It could – it should – be some of the most compelling viewing of a World Cup that may be spluttering in the puddles right at this moment, but which has already produced some outstanding match-ups on the days when the heavens have relented. Here’s hoping the clouds can give this contest a break. It’s one that promises to be unmissable.
England WLWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
West Indies LWLLW
In the spotlight
It’s all about Jofra, who else? There are “no secrets” in Jofra Archer‘s methods, claimed Floyd Reifer earlier this week, given that he was a regular in West Indies’ age-group teams until his omission for the 2014 Under-19 World Cup prompted a move from Barbados to Brighton, and thence to the world stage. But there will be no shortage of spice when one of the bowlers of the tournament to date lines up against the men with whom he is surely sharing a dressing-room in a parallel universe. The liquid pace that he is able to generate from his near effortless run-up has already produced some startling moments in this tournament, not least the savage bouncer which rattled Hashim Amla’s grille and left him with concussion. And as he admitted in that South Africa match, the adrenalin of his World Cup debut drove his game, and his pace, to rare heights. You might presume that this contest will get his appetite similarly whetted.
Trevor Bayliss apparently had a wry smile on his face when asked for his opinion of Sheldon Cottrell‘s victory salutes – though the trouble with the edgiest of quotes is that they get stripped of context as soon as they are laid out on a flat page of words. And sure enough, having claimed that Cottrell’s antics “probably piss me off more than anyone else”, Bayliss laid the groundwork for some extra jubilant send-offs on Friday – “exactly, more salute to come!! Aaaatttennntiooon!” said Chris Gayle on Instagram in response to an ESPNcricinfo post. And no matter what England’s players may privately think of the man himself, there’s clearly something about Cottrell’s methods that place substance over style. He’s scalped five wickets in the tournament to date, including two in four overs on this ground in Monday’s washout against South Africa.
England’s hopes of fighting West Indian fire with their own fully-loaded arsenal have taken a slight hit with the news that Mark Wood’s dodgy ankle has been playing up again. He is expected to undergo a fitness test on the morning of the game, but with five more group matches to come before the semis, and England reasonably well placed at this early stage of the round-robin, prudence might be the order of the day. Moeen Ali, who missed the Bangladesh match to attend his daughter’s birth, is likely to slot back into the twin spin attack, alongside Adil Rashid.
England: (probable) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jonny Bairstow, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Liam Plunkett, 11 Jofra Archer.
Russell remains the biggest unknown quantity for West Indies on the eve of the contest. He was rested for the South Africa match in a bid to manage his long-term knee problem, and Holder admitted that a decision on whether he plays or not will “boil down to how he wakes up tomorrow morning and feels”. Kemar Roach is a suitable pacy understudy, although he lacks the explosive power with the bat. Evin Lewis also missed the last match after being struck on the hand in practice but is expected to be fit to return in place of Darren Bravo.
West Indies: (probable) 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Evin Lewis, Shai Hope (wk), 4 Nicholas Pooran, 5 Shimron Hetmeyer, 6 Jason Holder (capt), 7 Andre Russell, 8 Carlos Brathwaite, 9 Ashley Nurse, 10 Sheldon Cottrell, 11 Oshane Thomas.
Pitch and conditions
The weather in Hampshire has been miserable all week, so it’s a matter of sitting tight and hoping for clearish skies come the toss on Friday. Quite how the pitch will have been affected is anyone’s guess – it hasn’t been seen for days. But given the life that West Indies’ quicks extracted in the 7.3 overs available to them against South Africa, it promises to be another bowl-first day.
- The tastiest match-up of this contest is surely the resumption of the nascent rivalry between opening batsman and bowler, Gayle and Archer, which has so far been limited to five innings across three T20 campaigns (one BPL and two IPLs). Gayle, true to reputation, hasn’t stood on ceremony, cracking 35 runs from 25 balls faced all told. But he has been dismissed by Archer on two occasions for an average of 17.50.
- By his lofty standards, Gayle’s overall record against 140kph-plus bowlers is less than stellar – he has been harassed by Trent Boult in recent match-ups and was given out three times against Mitchell Starc last week before a decision finally stuck. Another factor will be the importance of running between the wickets on one of the largest playing areas in the competition – rarely a Gayle forte, or that of many of his team-mates for that matter, who prefer to let their six-hitting do the running.
- With no legspinner in West Indies’ ranks, Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow may finally be presented with an all-pace new-ball attack at the top of England’s order. Cottrell enjoyed early success against both men in West Indies’ win in Barbados in February.
Stats and trivia
- England may never yet have won the World Cup, but at least they can say they haven’t lost to West Indies in the tournament since they lifted the last of their two crowns in 1979.
- England were the beaten finalists at Lord’s in 1979, when West Indies successfully defended their title. Since then, they have won all five of their encounters across four tournaments – two in 1987, and one each in 1992, 2007 and 2011.
- With 215 runs at 71.67 and a strike-rate of 118.8, Roy has been one of the outstanding performers in this World Cup. His record, however, is a far cry from his role in the 2017 Champions Trophy, when he was dropped after a run of 18 runs in the same number of games.
- The focus on Friday may be on the quicker bowlers on both teams, but one of the most penetrative in recent England-West Indies games has been Holder – who has dismissed Bairstow, Root, Ben Stokes and Buttler on two occasions each.
“It is not frustration because we learnt a huge amount about growing our game out in the West Indies. I think it’s important to have days where you are beaten or can’t beat a side because you then look even more into areas of improvement. You almost look outwardly and say, ‘What were we missing today?'”
Eoin Morgan sees plenty of positives in England’s 2-2 draw in the Caribbean earlier this year.
“I don’t think it will change, that’s just Sheldon. I guess Trevor will just have learn to accept it [smiling].”
Jason Holder on the prospect of a “special salute” for Bayliss from Sheldon Cottrell