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WI v England - Series Preview
15 May 2007
By: Liam Camps

Balance is the key to any recollection of West Indies and England rivalry. For years the West Indies thrashed their English counterparts thoroughly on both home soil and away. But since 2000 the pendulum of dominance has swung entirely the way of England. The West Indies won the first Test of that series by a convincing margin and they looked a revitalized power. Some hearty blows by Dominic Cork sapped all of that confidence, and the Caribbean team has only once since come close to beating a major team away from home. Not since that first Test win at Edgbaston have the West Indies won a Test overseas against anyone other than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh.

The great history between these teams means that any series can be hyped as a keen contest, regardless of the state of the individual sides. Here we meet two teams deflated by a lack of success in recent times, and thoroughly outclassed and proven inferior at a spectacle of a World Cup tournament. Indeed, the last competitive match played by either side was at the World Cup, and a meaningless fixture at that. Both teams reached the second round of the tournament with chances and hopes of pressing into the final four. But wasted opportunities and dismal performances in pressure situations structured definite failure of such a mission. That last game was also the curtain call of Brian Lara, and provided more thrills and spectacle than any other game in the tournament. It was, in fact, a measure of excitement that the final three games should have matched and surpassed in a less imperfect tournament.

Now England face injury concerns surrounding their captain Michael Vaughan, while the West Indies arrived in England with a rookie captain, Ramnaresh Sarwan. It is the start of a new era of competition between these two sides. One not involving greatness, in the form of Brian Lara. Yet there are other names in the mix as potential greats of the future, and certainly some of the best players of the contemporary game. Kevin Pietersen is undoubtedly the best batsman on either side, now that Lara is gone, and is the main difference between the two batting lineups. That said, and this is hurriedly added, a top order of Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell has been proven vastly superior to that of Gayle, Ganga and Sarwan. But it may be the less hyped players who will play the biggest role in this series.

The last time the West Indies toured England, a young allrounder named Dwayne Bravo made his Test debut. In that series he stated intent with bat and ball and has since continued to show such promise and enthusiasm as the future of West Indies cricket. In the field he is a livewire, with the ball he is thoughtful and constantly experimenting, and with the bat he possesses flair and confidence. Similarly England find their inspiration in the measure of Monty Panesar. Long gone are the days of the holding spin of Ashley Giles. Panesar presents an aggressive alternative to England's pace battery.

Ironically though, it was Giles who bowled positively to spin England to a sweep of the West Indies the last time they toured, in 2004. On the evidence of that career-high performance, Panesar's impact threatens to be immense. Whether or not he is taking wickets, the left-arm spinner always gives everything to a cause and can never be faulted for lack of heart. There will undoubtedly be some intriguing battles between these two players. The spirit of either side is epitomized by these individuals and a fair supply of success could hinge on their performance.

Aside from the glitz and glamour of stardom, other more mundane names such as Collingwood, Plunkett, Anderson, Morton, Joseph could too take centre stage. Paul Collingwood, clearly the most established of that bunch and for all his success of recent months, still needs to anchor himself in the England lineup. The looming understanding is that a fit Vaughan, despite his lack of meaningful first-class cricket and runs at all of late, would usurp Collingwood in the first eleven. Perhaps he will forever be the 12th man of a full-strength Team England, but Collingwood can only continue to give his best. And on the evidence thus far, Collingwood's best is outstanding in the field and, courageously, with the bat. For Morton, Joseph, Plunkett and Anderson, whatever opportunity they get to show their worth must be taken, as none are considered close to strong first team consideration at this stage in their careers.

But whatever the combinations take the field on Thursday and, indeed, those who play throughout this early segment of the English summer, we can only hope they will rise to presenting a willing audience with a keen contest. Both teams have much to prove, though perhaps more so the West Indies, who have gone so long without overseas success.

It is a true test of character that they will now look to break that devastating streak of series losses in England, where it has been almost impossible to win in recent times. They must do so too with a new captain and a new coach, given Bennett King's sudden resignation. For England this series is a matter of re-establishing pedigree after a dismal Ashes showing. In an attempt to return to the level of the clear number two team in the world, England must dispatch the West Indies, a far cry from the top of world cricket, with as much apparent ease as possible. On paper this is another tale of David against Goliath, but the likelihood of a gargantuan victory is far greater now than in Biblical times.

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West Indies: Daren Ganga
Ramnaresh Sarwan, the new West Indies captain, would be the obvious choice as named in this section, but for Daren Ganga this series may present an even greater challenge. He is widely regarded as the best captain in the region, but has never been able to establish himself as a sure-pick for the international team. Unlike Sarwan, there is no guarantee that Ganga will be in the team in any capacity in a year's time, let alone as captain. As such he has been restricted to duties of deputy. Thus, this newly-instated vice-captain will hope to press on with his form of 2006 and finally set himself in the West Indies lineup. In the time he will play understudy to an entirely untested leader. Whereas Ganga has led Trinidad and Tobago to multiple regional titles in both forms of the game, Sarwan cannot boast of captaincy experience for his home nation of Guyana.

Technically Ganga has always been a superior batsman to Sarwan, even scoring more runs at regional level. And yet technique can only get a player so far, as Ganga knows far too clearly. But on the evidence of last year, the opener now matches his flawless technique with much stronger mental capabilities. The hope is that he can press toward an end to the problems at the top of the West Indies batting order. Truth be told, he may still have a future as the leadership head of the the West Indies team.

England: Steve Harmison
Impressive early season form has all but ensured that Steve Harmison will return to England "colours", donning his whites and charging in at his favourite opponents. At the end of last year, and the start of this one, Harmison looked a broken man. A far cry from the bowler who demolished the West Indies in 2004, Harmison has struggled to recapture any such devastating form over the last two years. His bowling average has risen dramatically, and would have done so more if not for the odd outstanding haul. But he has struggled to put two such performances together on most occasions, and will hope to finally press on from that promise he signaled in the Caribbean so long ago. He will face one less challenge with Lara gone, though the great left-hander hardly seemed a bother when Harmison was on form.

There is no doubt that England need a strong and potent Harmison. The present attack relies far too much on Andrew Flintoff as a strike force, and with Simon Jones still struggling for rhythm at Glamorgan, Harmison will have a huge role to play in whatever success England can attain. The West Indies team may be downcast and depleted, but there are still some very handy batsmen in the ranks and flat pitches at the feet.

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