Richard Mann previews the third Test between West Indies and England with the tourists desperate for a consolation victory in Saint Lucia having already lost the series.
Recommended bets: West Indies v England third Test
With the series already lost, England begin the Third Test in Saint Lucia on Saturday bidding to salvage some scraps of salvation from what has been a bruising and humiliating defeat at the hands of a resurgent West Indies.
For the tourists, last week’s crushing loss in Antigua was a case of same old story, England losing the toss and with it, seemingly all chance of victory when enduring the worst of the conditions with the bat.
Throughout the last 12 months it has been just the opposite for England with captain Joe Root winning every toss in impressive series wins over India and Sri Lanka and with it, the Three Lions being able to dictate the game on their own terms.
For regular readers of this column, I acknowledge that this will sound like a broken record but the point I’m trying to make is that for all England have been bad over the last few weeks, and they have been woefully bad at times, a change of luck at the coin toss and the visitors could easily claim a consolation victory here, though it would take a brave punter to take the 4/5 on offer.
The likes of Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali all thrive on getting on the front foot, literally in most cases, and if England can bat first this week and get ahead of the game, those confidence players are likely to be seen in a much better light.
One of England’s major problems has been that they continually find themselves under pressure and chasing the game, West Indies posting a competitive first-innings score in the first Test in Barbados and being able to set the pace thereafter and then winning the toss last week and picking up early wickets in helpful bowling conditions.
West Indies are 7/4 shots to complete a series clean sweep but will be without their captain and talisman Jason Holder after he was suspended for his side’s slow over rate in Antigua, a major blow for the hosts, while England’s injury worries might actually force them to field a more balanced side.
A hand injury to Ben Foakes should mean Bairstow takes up keeping duties again and with it, common sense could prevail and allow him to return to the middle order where his pugnacious batting is able to prosper away from the threat of the new ball.
That would mean Joe Root would have to bite the bullet this week and despite his misgivings, bat at number three to accommodate a host of middle-order players before James Vince is surely handed an extended run at first drop in the summer and beyond.
The Vince argument is one for another day but despite his obvious frailties, he has looked comfortably the most accomplished number three England have fielded since Ian Bell was left out of the side in 2015 and should Root choose to stay at number four for this match, England could easily find themselves in early trouble again with a top three comprising of rookies Rory Burns, Joe Denly and Bairstow looking as reliable as a chocolate fireguard.
One man who will be licking his lips at the prospect of bowling at England's flaky top order will be Kemar Roach, quite brilliant in taking 10 wickets in Antigua last week having set the tone for the series when claiming 5/17 in the first innings of the opening Test.
His relentless accuracy and impressive lateral movement, particularly from around the wicket to England's left-handers, has made Roach almost unplayable at times and with Holder absent and Shannon Gabriel struggling for rhythm in the series so far, he looks a solid wager at 11/4 to take top first innings bowling honours for the hosts.
At 30-years-of-age, Roach is close to the finished article now and his excellent performances over the last few years would suggest he is going to make hay while at the peak of his powers.
While Roach will be giving Trevor Bayliss a few headaches as he prepares his side for the series finale, a late injury scare for Stokes is another concern for England with his all-round abilities almost priceless.
However, even in his potential absence, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and expected returnee Mark Wood will be heartened by reports that this surface in Saint Lucia could well be the most seamer-friendly surface of the series and all three will be hoping to finish strongly.
Anderson has been Mr Reliable for England once again, his seven wickets in the series coming at an average just under 27, though he didn’t quite make the impact in Antigua that he did in the first Test, not surprising given the heavy workload he endured in that series opener.
Nevertheless, he has had a decent break since those back-to-back Tests and will no doubt been keen to leave his mark on what will surely be his last visit to the Caribbean while Broad returned to the side with an impressive display last week and looks as hungry and determined as he has ever been.
A spell out of the team has clearly lit a fire in Broad and the technical work he has done with the likes of Sir Richard Hadlee since last winter’s Ashes defeat is clearly starting to pay dividends, though three wickets in Antigua didn’t do his efforts justice at all.
Roston Chase was a losing selection for this column when put up for top West Indies first innings runscorer but backers would have been fully justified in feeling a little hard done by, the Barbados star succumbing to Broad when a back of length delivery shot along the ground and left him with no chance on the way to uprooting his off-stump.
The same argument as last week still applies; with Anderson and Broad sure to provide a stern examination of the West Indian top order, Chase looks well placed at number five to cash in once conditions become a little easier to bat.
With Stokes an injury doubt for England, the middle-order West Indies batsman might enjoy more respite here and Chase, with four Test match hundreds and seven fifties to his name already, looks worth sticking with at 13/2.
Posted at 1245 GMT on 08/02/19.