Big picture – T20 World Cup countdown begins
And now for something completely different. Or at least a slight change of pace after three months solid of ODI cricket. England have had their fill for 2023 and even if West Indies’ appetite for the 50-over format has been sharpened by a 2-1 series win, having kicked their heels during the World Cup, it is time to switch gears and dig out the T20 duds for five short-form thrashes starting under the Bridgetown lights on Tuesday.
For the hosts, after two dismal T20 World Cup campaigns in the UAE and Australia – the latter of which saw them knocked out by Ireland in the preliminary group stage – there is an acute sense of needing to reassert their pedigree in what was for a long time West Indies’ strongest format. Already there are signs that Daren Sammy, now six months into his role as white-ball coach, is starting to improve fortunes; since failing at the 50-over qualifier in June, they have beaten India in T20Is and now England in ODIs.
England have not set much store in bilateral limited-overs competition in recent times – their T20I commitments so far this year include being whitewashed 3-0 in Bangladesh and a 2-2 draw with New Zealand ahead of the ODI World Cup run-in – and will doubtless feel that, given the higher volume of T20 cricket played by most of their players, they have a strong base from which prepare. This series and the visit of Pakistan in May will comprise their entire World Cup build-up; West Indies, meanwhile, only have a three-match series in Australia to come, after their Pakistan tour was shunted to 2025. Across the next 10 days, in Barbados, Grenada and Trindad, we’ll see how each team is placed.
West Indies WLLWW (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
In the spotlight – Andre Russell and Jos Buttler
Few players have T20 CVs to compete with Andre Russell, whose exploits across the major leagues – notably during a decade in the IPL with Kolkata Knight Riders – as well as his role in two World T20 wins, put him among the format’s all-time MVPs. It is now more than two years since his last international appearance, as the defending champions limped out of the 2021 World Cup, and it remains to be seen whether a 35-year-old allrounder with a history of knee problems can still be a dominant force. But his talismanic presence is enough in itself to encourage West Indies that they can regain their mojo in the format.
Is a change as good as a rest? Jos Buttler might be about to find out. In action almost permanently since the start of August, through the Hundred and then the build-up and execution of England’s doomed World Cup campaign, followed almost immediately by a return to colours in the Caribbean, Buttler has looked increasingly careworn over recent weeks. Although he ended the worst run of his ODI career with a fifty at the 14th attempt in Antigua last week, that was immediately followed up with a golden duck in the defeat in Barbados. A return to opening the batting might bring the clarity he needs.
Team news – Big names back on both sides
After the experimental feel of the ODIs, West Indies will welcome back a host of battle-hardened internationals for this series. Holder, Pooran, Mayers and Russell have all been in action at the Abu Dhabi T10 but should slot back in, with the personnel largely unchanged from the 3-2 victory over India in August.
West Indies (probable): 1 Brandon King, 2 Kyle Mayers, 3 Nicholas Pooran, 4 Shai Hope, 5 Rovman Powell (capt), 6 Shimron Hetmyer, 7 Andre Russell, Romario Shepherd, 8 Jason Holder, 9 Akeal Hosein, 10 Gudakesh Motie, 11 Alzarri Joseph
Mott has confirmed that Buttler will move back up to opener, where he will be partnered by one of the ODI Bash Brothers, Salt or Jacks. Rehan may have to warm the bench, with the return of senior spin duo Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid, while 22-year-old quick Turner will hope to make his first England appearance at some point in the series.
England (probable): 1 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 2 Phil Salt, 3 Will Jacks, 4 Ben Duckett, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Liam Livingstone, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Sam Curran, 9 Tymal Mills/Gus Atkinson, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Reece Topley
Pitch and conditions
There was plenty on offer for the bowlers during the rain-affected ODI at Kensington Oval and the prospect of a used surface for this first T20I may put a cap on the run-scoring – although it is a ground on which the ball can fly to all parts, as demonstrated when more than 400 runs were scored by West Indies and England in the third match of five in 2021-22. As with Saturday’s one-day game, there is a chance that the weather may have a say.
Stats and trivia
“We’re in the thick of a series which is going to be quite important for us going forward with the T20 here in six months. You naturally need to focus on that.”
Chris Woakes is back in action and focusing on the here and now
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick