Big picture – England in a rum spot (again)
Not for the first time, things haven’t gone to script for England in the Caribbean – and instantly it feels like there is more of an edge to this ODI series, with two matches still to play. West Indies, who lost to Zimbabwe, Netherlands and Scotland during their abject World Cup Qualifier earlier in the year, have plenty of ground to make up if they to return to the big time in 2027, but there was enough about their performance to suggest that they still have the talent to compete.
This team, after all, was missing potentially key personnel – with Nicholas Pooran and Jason Holder sitting out the format for now – and saw the build-up overshadowed by another predictable row about selection. Once the action got underway, they recovered from a poor start with the ball to prevent England getting away completely, and then staged another impressive revival from 213 for 5 in the 39th over – still needing 113 from 68 balls.
West Indies still had Hope, though, and come the end the glory, too, after pulling off their second-highest successful chase in ODIs. Already the team’s star batter, Hope has taken his game to another level since being appointed captain, but he spoke afterwards only of West Indies winning and learning how to back up their performances.
Another shoddy display at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium will see the series concluded early – and give West Indies their first bilateral ODI success over England since 2007. There is also the small matter of the ICC rankings, which with the scrapping of the Super League will determine qualification for 2027. England, in sixth, still have a small cushion from the teams below them but the recent trend has been down; West Indies need to lift themselves from tenth to avoid further Qualifier indignities down the line.
This series is also England’s last ODI commitment until September 2024, by which time – post T20 World Cup – we might be talking about the reboot to the reboot. Buttler, in particular, needs to feel the sun on his shoulders and the wind at his back. As ever, such things can’t be taken for granted by an English cricketer in the Caribbean.
West Indies WLWLL (last five completed ODIs, most recent first)
In the spotlight – Alick Athanaze and Jos Buttler
England’s openers were in party mood from the outset but it was Alick Athanaze who best combined aggression with staying power to put the West Indies chase on track, scoring the lion’s share of a 104-run first-wicket stand with Brandon King. Athanaze took a while to convert the promise of being the leading run-scorer at the 2018 Under-19 World Cup – just ahead of Shubman Gill, no less – into a chance at senior international level, but with his flowing cuts and pulls he certainly looked the part in his fifth ODI appearance. Now, in the words of his captain, it’s about producing big top-order runs consistently, “not just a one-off to show the world you can do something”.
Team news – Few changes expected
West Indies may wish to stick with a winning XI, with almost everyone contributing in the first match – although young allrounder Matthew Forde could push for a debut.
West Indies (probable): 1 Alick Athanaze, 2 Brandon King, 3 Keacy Carty, 4 Shai Hope (capt & wk), 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Sherfane Rutherford, 7 Romario Shepherd, 8 Yannic Cariah, 9 Alzarri Joseph, 10 Gudakesh Motie, 11 Oshane Thomas
England went for batting depth and Liam Livingstone delivering a full quota of overs, only to see their three seamers all go at more than a run a ball. The uncapped John Turner has reportedly bowled with pace in the nets, while Tom Hartley offers another spin option.
England (probable): 1 Will Jacks, 2 Phil Salt, 3 Zak Crawley, 4 Ben Duckett, 5 Harry Brook, 6 Jos Buttler (capt & wk), 7 Liam Livingstone, 8 Sam Curran, 9 Brydon Carse, 10 Rehan Ahmed, 11 Gus Atkinson.
Pitch and conditions
The surface for the first ODI belied North Sound’s slow-and-low reputation, with more runs scored in an ODI at the ground than ever before – and that despite some variable bounce and assistance for spin. The second match, a day-night fixture, will be played on a fresh strip, with a forecast for warm and humid conditions.
Stats and trivia
“Obviously, he’s gone through a bit of a lean patch recently but as we see with so many of the great players I’m sure he’ll come straight out of that and will be scoring runs freely soon.”
Harry Brook believes a score is around the corner for Buttler
“Any time you cross the line, the main focus has to be to win. Every time you play cricket for West Indies, it’s so much more than just development. Yes, it’s a big thing for us, especially now, but we want to win this series, we’ve got a great chance to win this series.”
Shai Hope is concerned about one thing only
Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick