England’s new-look Lions begin their three-match tour of the West Indies on Tuesday desperate to restore some much-needed pride.
Joe Root leads a reshuffled squad to the Caribbean in the aftermath of the winer’s Ashes debacle. Eight players were axed from the under-performing squad which suffered a humiliating 4-0 defeat at the hands of their arch rivals.
Head coach Chris Silverwood, batting coach Graeme Thorpe were also rightfully chopped alongside Director of Cricket Ashley Giles.
And under the new stewardship of interim Director of Cricket Andrew Strauss and stand-in coach Paul Collingwood, England have hit the ‘reset’ button after their recent failings in the longest format of the game.
It is well documented how surprising it was that stalwart seamers James Anderson, 39, and Stuart Broad, 35 — with well over 1,100 Test scalps between them — were dropped from the squad.
The fact it sparked such outrage is testament to the evergreen duo’s incredible longevity. They simply shouldn’t be as good as they are at this stage of their illustrious careers.
They have aged like a fine wine. But herein lies the problem the England hierarchy are faced with because it stunts the natural progression of the bowling attack with a huge void to be filled when they finally hung up their bowling boots. That decision may well have been taken out of their hands and if it has they deserve so much more after almost two decades of brilliance.
There are striking similarities to the 1989/90 trip to the Caribbean. Star all-rounder Ian Botham and batter David Gower were shockingly omitted after a disastrous home Ashes tour, where England probably would have lost 6-0 if they weren’t aided by the weather.
That tour was famously the first which Sky broadcast live back to the UK. It was billed as the young lions fighting fire with fire against West Indies’ great fast bowlers. Future England captains Nassar Hussain and Alec Stewart so the formula has some merit. All new stars need to be born somewhere.
The hosts 2⃣2⃣9⃣-7⃣ heading into the evening session
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But, to call it a reset is a bit of a stretch with captain Root, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes boasting over 300 Test caps between them.
And there is experience in the squad, albeit not consistently at the top level. Uncapped opening batsman Alex Lees is 28 and alongside fresh-faced bowlers Saqib Mahmood, Matthew Fisher and Matthew Parkinson were somewhat surprise inclusions as determined England look to overhaul their failing fortunes.
The quintet of seam bowlers picked for the solitary warm-up game against the President’s XI — Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, Ollie Robinson and Craig Overton — have an average age of 30. It’s not as if they are raw teenagers still learning their craft.
It would be disrespectful to the West Indies to call it a development tour, but captain Root did just that in his pre-series press call and that’s the corner the ECB have backed themselves into.
They may not be the dominant force which hammered all comers for nigh on two decades with a battery of fast bowlers, but that doesn’t hide the fact England are searching for just their second Test series victory against the proud nation in 54 years.
The early signs are good as the visiting batters got much-needed time, and runs, in the middle in Antigua. Bairstow, England’s only centurion Down Under in the winter, reached three figures, whilst Root, Zak Crawley, Lees and Dan Lawrence all got 50s.
Speedster Wood, who impressed with his hostility and ability to keep himself fit during the Ashes, frustratingly went down with a bug.
The time has come for England’s players to stand up and be counted.
Skipper Root said: “This is an opportunity for other guys to step into that space and become leaders as well. I want those guys step into that void and enjoy that challenge, and enjoy becoming more senior within the group.
“Ultimately, we've got to look after what's right in front of us. And that's this tour and making sure we get as much of that right as we possibly can.”