Richard Mann previews England's Cricket World Cup clash with the West Indies in Southampton on Friday.
England v West Indies
The famous British weather is doing its best to spoil what has been an absorbing start to the Cricket World Cup but despite suffering an untimely abandonment against South Africa on Monday, West Indian spirits don't appear to have been dampened and there is good reason to think they are worth backing against England on Friday.
Jason Holder's side have been a much-improved outfit in the last 12 months or so, in all forms of the game, and it is worth remembering that they pushed England all the way when drawing this winter's ODI series between the two sides 2-2.
There was some terrific cricket played by both sides in that series and although it is England who have home advantage on Friday, the West Indies have played some fine cricket since arriving on these shores, beating Pakistan handsomely before only narrowly losing a close encounter against Australia and then seeing their match with South Africa fall foul to the weather having made early inroads with the ball.
A crucial factor in the West Indies' upturn in fortunes has been their bowling, particularly in the pace department, and Holder has been very smart in sensing that with the white-ball offering very little assistance in the way of lateral movement, pace, aggression and good use of the short ball is going to prove a more fruitful tactic for the seamers at this World Cup.
The West Indies employed that tactic wonderfully well when bundling out Pakistan for only 105 in their opening match before then reducing Australia to 79-5 a few days later, and although they failed to drive home their home advantage that day, the bowling attack certainly looks to have enough potency to trouble England.
Left-arm paceman Sheldon Cottrell has proven a real find and has picked up five wickets in this tournament already while the success of Oshane Thomas, Holder and Andre Russell means that the excellent Kemar Roach might have to warm the bench again on Friday.
Thomas and Russell are the quickest of that quartet but all four can generate steep bounce and their aggression should ensure England's top order has plenty to think about.
Unlike in England's opening three World Cup matches, don't expect the West Indies to start with spin. This will be all about pace and intimidation and with Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow likely to try and meet fire with fire, we should be for an absorbing watch.
England's own bowling attack is likely to adopt a similar approach and in Mark Wood and Jofra Archer, Eoin Morgan can call upon the two fastest bowlers in the competition so far.
Despite his relative lack of international experience, Archer is proving to be a revelation while Wood has impressed in his two World Cup starts having missed the opening victory against South Africa.
Elsewhere, however, Chris Woakes is struggling to find the swing that can make him such a big new-ball threat and he will be disappointed to have conceded 162 runs from his 21 overs in the competition so far, his three wickets coming late on in Pakistan's brutal assault at Trent Bridge.
His effectiveness is a concern going forward but with Moeen Ali struggling for form with the bat, Woakes might be granted a reprieve given the runs he can provide from number eight.
Adil Rashid is another who might be looking over his shoulder, too, should England again opt to field only one spinner in Southampton and deem Ali worthy of a recall having missed Saturday's win over Bangladesh.
With Archer and Wood looking England's key threats, the likes of Chris Gayle, Shai Hope and Russell will all fancy their chances of making hay if able to withstand the early pace barrage.
The West Indies might have fallen short with the bat against Australia last week but I have been impressed with their batting on the whole, Gayle looking fit and hungry in his last World Cup campaign and Hope growing into the fine top-order player that his huge talent has always promised.
With the likes of Shimron Hetmyer, Holder and Russell forming a powerful middle and lower order, the potential is certainly there for the West Indies to make big scores - they amassed 421 against New Zealand in a World Cup warm-up match in May - and England could find themselves on the back foot if not able to make early inroads.
England's own batting remains strong and following Jason Roy's blistering 153 against Bangladesh on Saturday, every member of the top six have shown form already in the competition.
Ben Stokes' batting might not have made the same headlines that his fielding has in this World Cup, nor the exploits of his batting colleagues, but he has looked in really good touch in recent weeks and his classy 89 against South Africa was a mature innings that rebuilt an England innings that had briefly threatened to collapse.
In a batting line-up as strong as England's, Stokes won't always be required to make that substantial match-winning innings but he is 8/1 to finish as England's top runscorer again and he looks in good enough touch to cash in if coming to crease early enough.
With rain around and the potential to lose a significant number of overs, he doesn't make the final staking plan coming in at number five, but he is well worth considering should the forecast improve.
Should we finally get some decent weather this week, we could easily be in for a high-scoring encounter and as we saw at Taunton on Wednesday, a damp pitch that was tinged with green wasn't enough to help the seam bowlers prevent plenty of runs being scored against two white-balls that just refuse to swing.
A high-scoring encounter would certainly suit the West Indies, as they demonstrated when making scores of 389 and 360 against England back in the winter, but should the weather play its part and force a reduced-overs match, that might help Holder's men, too.
In the likes of Gayle, Hetmyer and Russell, the West Indies house some of the most dangerous T20 operators on the planet and a contest played over anything significantly less than 50 overs might mean that England are inconvenienced most, particularly their established 50-over batting order that has Joe Root locked in at number three and the devastating Jos Buttler down at number six.
The West Indies, on the other hand, wouldn't need to change too much with Gayle and many of his colleagues primarily T20 stars nowadays and they could be more than capable of toppling the pre-tournament favourites on Friday.
As mentioned already, the West Indies went toe-to-toe with England in the Caribbean last winter and following a promising start to their World Cup campaign, 14/5 looks far too big a price for such a talented and dangerous white-ball outfit.
Posted at 1140 BST on 12/06/19.