The summer of cricket is about to get underway with England hosting West Indies at the Ageas Bowl in the first Test, starting on Wednesday, in what could be an intriguing three-match contest.
It is fair to say that both sides are in something of a transitional period with England lying fourth in the ICC Test rankings, while the Windies are down in eighth, above only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
West Indies’ state of flux has been going on for some time and it is no surprise to see them as big as
25/4* to win the first Test, given their struggles on these shores with the last series’ victory in England coming way back in 1988.
Windies Start Series with the Top Dog
Rarely does a team sport rely solely on one individual, even in cricket, but there is little doubt we have a box office encounter coming up with the performances of respective all-rounders Ben Stokes and Jason Holder key to their side’s chances of success.
One may argue that is especially true in the case of the latter with the Windies not the force of old by a long way. However, do not forget that England will go into Wednesday’s clash without arguably their best player, Joe Root, putting added pressure on the Durham man.
That, of course, adds a little spice to the upcoming proceedings with the key protagonists both leading their sides into battle, for the first time for Stokes of course.
Another twist to the upcoming tale is that the two are currently ranked as the leading all-rounders in Test cricket, and while plenty have raved about the abilities of Stokes, it is in fact Holder that is the top dog.
Whether that remains the case after this series is to be seen but there is no doubt it adds to the intrigue of what could be a fascinating battle.
Differing Strengths Make for Exciting Battle
One would argue that the two are contrasting all-rounders with Stokes seen as a batsman who can bowl, while his counterpart’s strength lies in the bowling department, with no small ability with the bat.
This is reflected in the stats with Stokes having scored nine hundreds and 21 half-centuries to pass the 4000-run mark in Test cricket at an average of 36.54, while he has four five-wicket hauls among his 147 wickets at an average of 32.68.
Holder, who has played 23 fewer Tests, is approaching 2,000 Test runs with three tons and eight fifties to his name at an average of 32.72, while he has six five-fers among 106 victims at an average of 26.37, which also includes one 10-wicket match haul.
Stokes has also cemented a place in the top order as he now bats at five, having previously played anywhere from four to 11, while Holder has never batted higher than seven, even in this Windies’ line-up.
No-one will forget Stokes’ destruction of South Africa in scoring the fastest double hundred in 2016, while his heroics in both the Ashes and World Cup are still fresh in the memory.
Holder is no mug with the bat though and scored a double-hundred of his own, unbeaten, when the Windies last played England on home soil in January 2019, finishing as the top run-scorer in the series in a surprise win for the Caribbean outfit.
Home Advantage the Key
However, playing the moving ball in England is a different kettle of fish and Stokes – who is also England’s best fielder – looks to have more of a case for finishing as the man of the match at the Ageas Bowl, installed as the favourite at
Holder has been nursing an ankle problem that has not helped his preparations, while he has struggled out in the middle in the warm-up matches, scoring just seven runs across three innings and facing fewer than 30 balls.
*All odds correct at time of writing