After nearly four long months, international cricket is finally set to return again. West Indies are already in the United Kingdom (UK) and have completed all the formalities of quarantine and related things. They’ve played a couple of intra-squad warm-up games as well. England assembled a 30-man squad as a pre-series training camp and went through an intra-squad practice game themselves.
The Ageas Bowl is all set to host the first Test. West Indies named an initial 14-man squad along with 11 reserves before adding Shannon Gabriel to the original squad. On the other hand, England have announced a 13-member squad with nine more reserves.
Hence, with the series just a few days away, let’s look at five fairly new (ish) players to watch out for in the upcoming historic series.
Alzarri Joseph has been around the international scene for almost four years now. It was back in 2016 that Alzarri Joseph shot into the spotlight. He was the spearhead of the West Indies under-19 side that won the World Cup. The Antigua-born fast bowler picked up 13 wickets at an average of 13.76. Six months later, he made his Test debut with Virat Kohli his maiden Test victim.
Since then, he’s just played nine Test matches. Injuries have had a large say in that. Every time he’s come back fit, there’s another injury layoff waiting for him. There’s hardly been any continuity. However, he seems to be fit and firing at the moment with head coach Phil Simmons backing him.
Joseph has the ability to crank up some real pace and can get the ball to do a bit as well. In the nine Tests he’s played, there may not have been a big performance of note. He’s picked up 25 wickets at 32.84. But he’s been pretty consistent, hitting good areas regularly and building pressure. He could form a lethal combination alongside Kemar Roach, Jason Holder and Shannon Gabriel in a four-prong pace attack. Also, he performed well in the two warm-up games, picking up eight wickets in three innings.
Ollie Pope’s Test career wasn’t off to the best of starts. In 2018, he made his debut against India and played a couple of matches in that series. He mustered just 54 runs and was eventually dropped. He wasn’t picked in the winter as England travelled to Sri Lanka and West Indies. However, Pope kept piling on the runs in domestic cricket. He scored 986 runs at an average of 70.42 for Surrey in the 2018 County season and was scoring runs for England Lions as well.
In 2019, just as he started the season well, Pope suffered a shoulder dislocation. But he roared back at the fag end of the season and ended up getting 561 runs, including two hundreds and as many fifties in five County games in the 2019 season.
Hence, there was no surprise when Pope received a call-up to the England side for the winter. He did very well, scoring three half-centuries and a maiden Test ton against South Africa. The Surrey lad seems to have settled in nicely in that England middle-order. Watch out for him, he is going to be a key man in the England batting line-up in the absence of Joe Root.
Moeen Ali has been England’s premier Test spinner for most part of the last four or five years. However, after a dismal outing in the first Ashes Test lasts summer, the off-spinning all-rounder took a break from the longest format. Jack Leach took over as England’s numero uno spinner before Dominic Bess came to the fore.
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The Somerset off-spinner has been very consistent in County cricket and he grabbed his chance when Leach was out ill, snaring a fantastic 5/51 in the first innings of the fourth Test in South Africa. With England seeking continuity, Bess gets the nod over Ali who was available and Leach.
The accuracy of Bess that goes along with his handy lower-order batting might play a key part in England’s line-up. Moreover, this might well be the first time Bess features in the entire English summer.
Chemar Holder is someone who is making all the right noises at the moment. The Barbados fast bowler has been performing well in the domestic circuit for some time now. He’s been playing first-class cricket for a couple of years now. The 22-year-old pacer was excellent in the 2019 season where he picked up 36 wickets at an average of 18.91. Hence, it’s no surprise he’s been picked.
Holder has the ability to bowl with great pace and fire. He generates discomforting bounce and can cause problems for the batsmen. With four frontline fast bowlers already present in the West Indies squad, Holder may not get an opportunity straight away. However, the fast bowlers are likely to be rotated and Holder might be the first one off the blocks.
He has a habit of making big impacts in his first few games. He did that in first-class and List ‘A’ cricket. He is a promising prospect and will be one of the Caribbean fast bowlers to watch out for.
Zak Crawley’s first-class numbers don’t really stand out. He averages a middling 31.95 and has largely blown hot and cold. In fact, Crawley averaged just 34.16 in the 2019 County Championship. However, it’s his sheer ability to bat long and bat big that makes him stand apart. With England being in search of top-order batsmen last winter, Crawley got an opportunity and did decently.
The Kent batsman hasn’t had a breakthrough performance or series yet. But the talent was there to see when he batted in South Africa. He scored 163 runs in three games and looked really settled and composed at the crease. There wasn’t a lot of fuss either and he was in good touch, timing the ball well.
However, this is going to be a significant game and series for Crawley. Crawley is likely to bat at No. 3 or 4 and a good performance will seal a permanent spot in the Test side.