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England favoured, but don't write off the West Indies


Just over 80 years ago, or just under 81 years ago, the West Indies, then the students of cricket, journeyed to England, then the teachers of the game, for their first Test series, and as was expected, the visitors were truly trounced. In fact, they offered little or no competition.

Today, 138 matches since, they are back at it again, this time England, the visitors and once the masters who are now trying to stay afloat, are fighting to regain their previous dominance, the West Indies, once the undisputed kings of the game and now at the foot of the ladder, are battling to regain their former glory, and although the odds favour England, the contest could be an interesting and intriguing affair.

Sitting in the middle of the ratings at number five, England, on 103 rating points, are fancied not only because they are above the West Indies at number seven.

They are only 23 rating points behind leaders Australia and six behind fourth-place Sri Lanka. They are as many as 22 rating points ahead of the West Indies who, along with New Zealand, are only in front of 'Cinderella' Bangladesh. But also, and more so, because of their recent record against the rest of the world - because of their recent record against the West Indies, at home and here in the West Indies, and because of a more solid and better balanced look to their team when compared to the West Indies.

West Indies should be happy

With the record showing 52 victories for the West Indies and 41 for England since their first confrontation in 1928, including a glorious and unforgettable run between 1984 and 1988 when, in drawing only one match, they won 5-0 away, 5-0 at home, and 4-0 away, the West Indies should be happy.

In recent times, however, the gods have not been so kind to the Windies who, on top of losing to every team except Zimbabwe and Bangladesh since defeating Sri Lanka in the West Indies in 2003, have lost 1-3 at home, 0-3 in the West Indies, 0-4 in England, and 0-3 in England in their last four series against England.

In fact, since winning the first Test at Edgbaston in 2000 by an innings and 93 runs, the West Indies, who fell for 54, 61, and 47 in embarrassing performances at Lord's in 2000, at Headingley in 2000, and at Sabina Park in 2004, have failed to enjoy the sweet taste of victory even on one occasion.

In the 16 Test matches played between the two teams since that day in Birmingham, England not only won 13 with three ending in draws, but after winning the first one by two wickets, they won each of the other 12 by an innings and 39 runs, by 158 runs, by 10 wickets, by seven wickets, by eight wickets, by 210 runs, by 256 runs, by seven wickets, by 10 wickets, by an innings and 283 runs, by 60 runs, and by seven wickets.

What is more important to those betting on England, however, is a look, not only at the results which show England with nine series victories over teams like South Africa, Australia, and Pakistan in a period in which the West Indies, apart from successes against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, have nothing to shout about, but also at the records of the players on the two teams.

Apart from Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who boasts a record of 8,203 runs with 20 centuries from 114 matches at an average of 49.71, the records of the West Indians, in batting and bowling, are poor in comparison to those of the Englishmen.

For the West Indies, the record shows Christopher Gayle scoring 5,109 runs and eight centuries from 75 matches at an average of 39.60, Ramnaresh Sarwan 4,909 runs and 11 centuries from 74 matches at an average of 39.58. Xavier Marshall 243 runs with no century at an average of 22.09, Devon Smith 1,045 runs and one century at an average of 24.30. Wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin 948 runs with no centuries at an average of 20.60, Brendan Nash, with only five first-class centuries and an average of 30.93, 162 runs with no centuries at an average of 54; and newcomer Dale Richards with a first-class record of 2,337 runs and three centuries at an average of 38.95.

For England, Andrew Strauss has scored 4,195 runs and 14 centuries from 55 matches at an average off 42.37, Alastair Cook 2,694 runs and seven centuries from 36 matches at an average of 42.09, Ian Bell 2,972 runs and eight centuries from 45 matches at an average of 41.27, Paul Collingwood 2,817 runs and seven centuries from 41 matches at an average of 42.04, Kevin Pietersen 4,039 runs and 15 centuries from 45 matches at an average of 50.48, all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, England's most experienced player with 72 matches under his belt, 3,578 runs and five centuries at an average of 32.23, and wicketkeeper Matthew Prior 650 runs and one century at an average of 40.62.

And the bowling is no different.

Without looking at right-arm leg-spinner Adil Rashid, at off-spinner Graeme Swann, at pacer Stuart Broad who averages 45.23 with the ball and 33.90 with the bat, with Steve Harmison boasting figures of 217 wickets at an average of 31.69, James Anderson 108 at an average of 35.22, Flintoff 213 at an average of 32.12, left-arm swing bowler Ryan Sidebottom 76 at an average of 25.68, and left-arm spinner Monty Panesar 120 at an average of 32.88, with Jerome Taylor, Daren Powell, and Fidel Edwards figures reading 68 at 35.14, 79 at 46.22, and 106 at 38.67 respectively, with left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn returning only eight wickets at an average of 58.62 in three matches, off-spinner Amit Jaggernauth one for 96 runs in his only match, and newcomer Lionel Baker's first-class record showing a disappointing 19 wickets in 13 matches at an average of 53.52, the England attack appears to be stronger.


On top of that, while Edwards has taken five wickets in an innings on seven occasions, Taylor has done so only twice, and Powell, who, with a bowling average that looks more like a batting average, plus his behaviour in New Zealand, is lucky to be still in the team, only once in 32 matches. On the other hand, Harmison of England has accomplished the feat eight times, Anderson five times, Sidebottom five times, Flintoff two times, and Panesar eight times.

The first Test of a series usually sets the tone for things to come, the first Test will be played at Sabina Park starting on Wednesday, and although, after winning five of the 14 matches between the two teams at 'Bina and losing three, Sabina is a lucky hunting ground for the home team, the memory of 2004, the last time the two teams locked horns there, is not a happy one for the Windies.

With the scoreboard reading: the West Indies 311, England 339, and the West Indies eight without loss in 15 minutes off 3.2 overs at the end of the third day, the Test match was apparently heading for an exciting finish. By lunch time, however, after another 108 minutes and 22.1 overs, after the West Indies had lost all 10 wickets for 39 runs and England had chipped to 20 without loss in 11 minutes and 2.3 overs, it was all over.

Harmison, standing at six feet five inches and getting the ball to bounce awkwardly, preened himself with seven wickets for 12 runs off 11.1 overs and the West Indies were routed for an embarrassing 47 runs - their lowest total in history.

Harmison is back, with him will be Flintoff, Anderson and Sidebottom, plus Panesar, and to me that is why England are fancied to get off to a winning start and to make it five in a row against the Windies.

Statistically, in batting, bowling, and team performances in recent times, although the difference it is not nearly as much as it was in 1928, England are superior to the West Indies.

Apart from the fact that Chanderpaul and Gayle, plus Sarwan, Taylor and Edwards are in the West Indies line-up, cricket, however, is a game of glorious uncertainties, it is one of pleasant surprises, and although they are no longer as strong, as invincible at home as they used to be, the West Indies, with a little luck, could pull off an upset.

There have been many a slip between the lip and the cup, and despite the presence of the attacking Pietersen, the cavalier and dangerous Flintoff, and the attractive Bell, England's batting, especially so Strauss and Cook at the top, appears suspect against hostile bowling, and if the skilled and more consistent Taylor is at his best, if the lightning quick Edwards with the catapult action can consistently drop the ball in the right areas, it could be very interesting.

In the final analysis, however, it will all depend on the fortunes of the West Indies batsmen against Harmison and company.

If, for example, Chanderpaul rises to the occasion once again and bat on and on, if Gayle swings his bat successfully, if Sarwan can put a price on his wicket, if one like Smith can appreciate that one swallow does not a summer make and can, this time around, fulfil his early promise.

Also if one like Marshall can really parade the special gift of which he has hinted and which so many have been talking about, and if Nash can provide some stability in the middle-order the series could be, starting with the first match, a lovely, nicely balanced contest - one which West Indians hope, and pray, will be the start of the trip back to the top.