England bid to continue their impressive upturn in fortunes in Test cricket when beginning a three-match series against the West Indies in Barbados on Wednesday.
Recommended bets: West Indies v England
"James Anderson has a gift from the gods: he could swing an orange" (Geoffrey Boycott, The Guardian 2008).
James Anderson does indeed have a gift from the gods. In fact, for English cricket, he has proven to be a gift from the gods, carrying the nation's bowling attack for well over a decade and, in the process, becoming the most successful seamer in the history of Test cricket.
The current count stands at 565 wickets and with a forthcoming three-match series against the West Indies and this summer's Ashes now firmly on the horizon, passing 600 scalps has become a very realistic possibility.
When the ball swings, there has been no one better in the history of the game and even in conditions alien to seam and swing bowling, Anderson has enjoyed more than his fair share of success, his herculean displays in touchstone away wins in Australia in 2010/2011 and India in 2012/2013 proving as good as anything produced by an opposition fast bowler on those shores in recent times.
The debate could rage long into the night about where Anderson stands on the list of all-time great fast bowlers - I would still have him a notch below Dale Steyn and Glenn McGrath - but with the Dukes ball in hand, it is hard to imagine a more skillful or threatening operator. The West Indies might well live to regret their recent decision to change ball manufacturers and switch to the swing-friendly Dukes.
Slow, low, lifeless surfaces have been a theme of Caribbean pitches over the last few years, prompting the West Indies board to move away from the previously used and much-maligned Kookaburra in favour of a Dukes ball that was ushered in to even up the contest between bat and ball and help produce more exciting and watchable Test cricket.
There was certainly plenty of excitement in the West Indies' five home Tests last year, the Dukes ball proving dominant against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh with seamers Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder filling their boots.
England's sole warm-up game on this tour, against the West Indies President's XI last week, saw England's quicks enjoy plenty of assistance through the air and off the wicket with Anderson typically outstanding, sending down 11 immaculate overs and picking up four wickets at the cost of only 12 runs.
Stuart Broad also impressed in that match, helping himself to four wickets as well, but Anderson has no peers when armed with a Dukes ball and he must be backed at 3/1 to finish the series as England's leading wicket-taker.
The last time England toured the West Indies, Anderson was again England's most successful bowler with his 17 wickets coming at an average of only 18.00 and it is worth remembering that the Dukes ball wasn't used that series.
Anderson clearly enjoys this tour. His wholehearted efforts in England's series defeat here back in 2009 were one of the turning points in a career that had threatened to fall away after such a bright start and he returns to these shores for what will surely be the final time as an international cricketer.
In fact, the forthcoming Ashes - should it end with victory and England reclaiming the urn - might well prove the perfect time for Anderson to bring to an end an outstanding career that has seen him become England's most decorated cricketer of all time.
Having confessed to feeling like a 'spare part' in England's impressive away win in Sri Lanka before Christmas, a series dominated by spin, and with his services not to be required in next summer's World Cup, Anderson will be desperate to make his mark in the next few weeks before setting his sights on a fragile Australian top order.
If this year is to be Anderson's last as an international cricketer - and I dearly hope that isn't the case - then expect the Burnley Express to go out with all guns blazing.
For captain Joe Root, this series represents an opportunity for his England side to build on some excellent recent results in this form of the game, series wins over India and Sri Lanka suggesting that a team full of promise and packed with talent is finally starting to fulfill its potential.
Clearly, there are still many bridges to cross for this team but while Anderson and Broad are still going strong the bowling remains potent, particularly in favourable conditions, while the reemergence of Jos Buttler to sit alongside the maturing Ben Stokes in the middle order has given the batting - often too reliant on Root - a more solid look to it.
The retirement of Alastair Cook has left a gaping hole at the top of the order, though, with Keaton Jennings and Rory Burns needing to build on an encouraging start to their opening partnership in Sri Lanka and Jonny Bairstow, for all his hustle and bustle, still having something to prove against the moving ball now pencilled in to bat at number three.
Bairstow remains pivotal member of England's side, in all forms of the game, so it is to be hoped that losing the gloves to Ben Foakes and the constant change to his batting position doesn't have a negative effect on his output long-term.
A best price of 2/9 tells you that England should claim another series win against a West Indies outfit that has seemingly been in transition ever since the likes of Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh hung up their boots a number of years ago.
Nevertheless, it shouldn't be forgotten that they pushed their opponents hard when touring England in 2017, winning at Headingley thanks to a marvellous 118 not out from Shai Hope, and they have some highly-capable players in their ranks.
Despite struggling for runs more recently, Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite can both boast sound records against England while the decision to recall the experienced Darren Bravo will further bolster the batting stocks that are sure to be tested by the likes of Broad and Anderson.
Bravo has scored over 3000 runs in Test cricket at an average of exactly 40 and his recent absence from the West Indies side was down to a falling out with the board rather than his own form or ability to contribute.
Should he fire on his return to international cricket, along with Hope and Brathwaite, the hosts certainly have the firepower to worry their guests with their own bowling attack, comprising of Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and Jason Holder, boasting enough experience and skill to hurt an England top order that has plenty of questions to answer itself.
For all England have made giant strides in this form of the game in the last year or so, winning each of the last eight tosses has been a huge help, allowing them to set the pace when making use of early conditions before relying on scoreboard pressure and an experienced and reliable bowling to attack to close out matches.
Should roles be reversed and England find themselves on the back foot and chasing the game, as was the case when they lost to India at Trent Bridge last summer, then the true answer as to how far this England side has come will be revealed.
Make no mistake, I expect them to prove too strong for the West Indies over the next few weeks but the hosts have the potential to prove a very dangerous outfit and as was the case when these two sides met in 2017, England's frailties at the top of the order could open the door for a home victory somewhere in the series.
As such, a small bet on England to win it 2-1 is advised with the aforementioned wager on Anderson making up the majority of the series staking plan.
Posted at 1445 GMT on 22/01/19