England start their three-Test series against the West Indies next week, with a stand-in skipper at the helm for the opening match.
With Joe Root set to become a dad for a second time, vice-captain Ben Stokes will lead the team at the Ageas Bowl, as England look to get the summer underway with a victory.
The Windies arrive on UK soil with the stats suggesting they should be big underdogs – currently priced at
12/1* to win the series, having won just four of their last 19 Test series’.
In contrast, the hosts have lost just five of their last 18 series’ in the longer format and have risen to fourth in the world rankings.
One of those four victories for the tourists though came against England in the Caribbean in 2018-19 and they do have match-winning players in their squad that the hosts need to be wary of.
Holder Fitness Could Prove Crucial
The key man for the tourists is captain Jason Holder, with concerns over the all-rounder’s fitness going into the first Test.
3/1 West Indies First Innings Top Bowler) was unable to bowl a ball during the recent practice match, as he battles with an ankle injury, but coach Phil Simmons remains hopeful that the 28-year-old will be fit to play.
The Windies do also have Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel, both of whom are in the top 20 of the Test bowling rankings, and might relish the seamer-friendly pitches in England.
When recently reflecting on the last defeat to the West Indies, Root said: “One thing that stood out was how formidable their bowling attack can be. It is really important we prepare well and we are ready for all of that.”
England Expects a Home Win
It’s been six years since England last lost a Test series on home soil and with a near full-strength squad to select from, they are understandably the
1/4 favourites to win the first Test.
With Root absent for the Southampton Test, England’s top four in the batting line-up is expected to be Rory Burns (
7/2 England First Innings Top Batsman), Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Joe Denly.
The uncapped James Bracey is another option, after the Gloucestershire left-hander scored an impressive 85 in a three-day intra-squad practice game this week.
With England likely to pick just one spin bowler for the first Test, the selectors will have to choose between Dom Bess, Moeen Ali and Jack Leach.
In terms of the pace bowlers, it is set to be three from five, with James Anderson and Stuart Broad expected to be two of those starters. Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes are the other options.
It’s also worth noting that England –
20/67 to hold a First Innings lead – have never lost in three previous Test matches at the Rose Bowl, recording a draw against Sri Lanka in 2011 before wins over India in 2014 and 2018.
*All odds correct at time of writing