Not since their 1980s heyday have West Indies won a Test series in England, but two aspects of the forthcoming three-match encounter could work in their favour, according to head coach Phil Simmons. First, due to the behind-closed-doors nature of the Tests, in response to Covid-19, there will be no supporters in the stands to cheer the home side on; and second, instead of being halfway through their summer, England have not played competitive cricket for several months.
That might “even things out a little bit”, Simmons said via video conference from the team’s training base in Manchester, where West Indies are currently serving a 14-day quarantine period and continuing their preparations for the rescheduled tour, after agreeing to ECB proposals for staging “bio-secure” Test matches.
As well as the absence of crowds, there will be significant departures from normal playing conditions – including a ban on using saliva to shine the ball, and the possibility of Covid replacements for players who display symptoms of the disease. The first international series to be contested since the coronavirus pandemic escalated in mid-March promises to be a trip into the unknown for all involved.
“I don’t know if it will increase our chances, because both teams are under the same umbrella – for want of a better word,” Simmons said. “The nice part for us is that 20,000 Englishmen raving for England, and that crowd support, it’s not there for them. So that in a way will help us, so it’s good from that point of view.”
Asked about the standing start for both teams, he added: “It’s a plus, because England hasn’t come from a tour recently, and we’ve just been playing cricket at home. Because in a normal situation we would have been coming from camps and England would have been halfway through their season and the series would have been going on right now. So I think that is a plus for us, because it evens out things a little bit, with the fact they haven’t been playing competitive cricket for a while also.”
Having beaten England 2-1 in the Caribbean 18 months ago, a draw would be enough for West Indies to retain the Wisden Trophy. And while they travelled to the UK earlier this week without three players who took park in that 2018-19 victory – batsmen Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer, and allrounder Keemo Paul – Simmons was happy with the players at his disposal.
“I think we have the best squad we can have,” he said. “Unfortunately a few guys decided not to come but we are here with the best squad that we can have here. And from the way we’ve started our work, the guys have been putting in, I think we’ll be ready and looking to defend our trophy.
“Even with everything around and having to be conscious of the whole situation and the way the world is now, we still have to be mindful that we are preparing for a Test series against one of the top Test nations in the world. So we still have to put everything in place and do everything correctly.”
The absence of Bravo and Hetmyer will likely increase the focus on the tourists’ batting line-up, in particular Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope, whose runs were integral to victory at Headingley in 2017 – West Indies’ first Test win in England for 17 years.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the batsmen to perform because the bowling unit have been carrying the Test team for a while now,” Simmons said. “It’s something that we have been on a lot, not to put extra pressure on but we need to get that total of 400-450 in order to give this bowling unit – which I think is a top-class bowling unit, the fast bowlers especially. So we need to get that 400-50 on a regular basis in order to give ourselves a chance of winning Test matches.
“We understand the quality of these two individuals [Bravo and Hetmyer] and we know what we’ll be missing. But in situations like this we have to work hard with the guys who are here and make sure that what we’re doing is putting them in a position to fill those two shoes for the series. Hopefully whoever fills the shoes can go on and be as great as they want to be.”
England well know the prowess of West Indies’ pace-bowling resources, having been blown away for 77 in Barbados last year, and Simmons suggested his hand could yet be strengthened by the time the first Test begins on July 8. Although Shannon Gabriel is not officially part of the 14-man Test squad, he is among the back-up personnel on tour and could come into contention for selection if he can prove his recovery from a knee injury over the coming weeks.
“Shannon as we know has come back from injury, and being a senior member of the squad in the past, I think we would definitely have a look at him coming into the [squad] if he’s up to that fitness level leading into the first Test.” (ESPNCricinfo)