Ed Hawkins says West Indies have proved again there's little to choose between these sides and expects them to go close in Manchester from Thursday
"The proof that these two sides were well-matched was plain to see in West Indies' 2-1 win last year. England’s lack of home support, a fragile batting line-up and a defeat in game one later…what more evidence do you need?"
England v West Indies
Thursday 16 May 11:00
TV: live on Sky Sports
The very least a punter can expect from a 1/4 shot is to pick their best team. Or to read the pitch right. Or to make the correct call at the toss. Arguably at those odds they should get all three decisions right. But England got each of them wrong. Ouch.
A four-wicket defeat by West Indies in game one leaves England uncertain and confused heading in to back-to-back Tests at Old Trafford. Who should make way for Stuart Broad, furious at being left out on a surface which probably suited him? Joe Denly or Zak Crawley axed for Joe Root? Do they drop the Jos Butter for Ben Foakes?
And what to do if they win the toss? It was a fair-minded call by Ben Stokes to pin his faith in a wearing pitch in Southampton but it also revealed justified insecurities about the batting line-up.
Eventually, it was an easy call on Denly but there is turmoil. Jofra Archer is out having 'broken bio-secure protocols' for going home to Brighton, a day after England revealed James Anderson and Mark Wood would be rested. Broad is a shoo-in. Chris Woakes, Sam Curran and the uncapped Ollie Robinson will compete for two spots.
In ordinary times Root bolsters the batting. But these are not ordinary times. Away for the birth of his child, he has had no batting and will surely be rusty.
Probable XI R Burns, D Sibley, Z Crawley, J Root, B Stokes, O Pope, J Buttler, D Bess, C Woakes, S Broad, O Robinson.
West Indies cheer
West Indies' eternal appeal was once more on show in the aftermath of the action from the Ageas Bowl. They are everyone's favourite team to lose to.
If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it's not supposed to. The majority of cricket fans are keen for the islands to once again be a powerhouse because of human nature's fondness for harking back. And the current team are heading in the right direction.
The pace attack is fearsome. Shannon Gabriel and Jason Holder were so good that Kemar Roach, normally so reliable, and Alzarri Joseph didn't have to be. They could split the all-pace attack, however, for this one if they reckon the wicket will turn with Rahkeem Cornwall coming in.
Despite Jermaine Blackwood's brilliant counter punching in the fourth innings, and Shane Dowrich's brave support, there are doubts about the ability to post big totals in first innings. But they don't suffer in comparison with England in that regard.
Probable XI K Brathwaite, J Campbell, S Hope, S Brooks, R Chase, J Blackwood, S Dowrich, J Holder, R Cornwall, K Roach, S Gabriel
Pacers to the fore
The irony is that the Old Trafford pitch would probably suit the Archer-Wood axis better than Southampton because of its reputation for reverse swing. England can count themselves lucky, then, that Stokes' angle of attack is equally threatening when the ball goes the other way.
Last summer, England were thumped by 185 runs in the Ashes, off the back of Stokes' Headingley heroics. Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood combined to claim 17 of England's 20 wickets. Previous to that game England had won four of their last five at Old Trafford.
It is reasonable to expect the fast men to be in business in the first two innings with the pitch taking turn in three and four. Could we be calling out England for not picking Jack Leach to turn it away from ten of West Indies 11 batters?
The last five first-innings match scores (1-2 denote won by side batting first or second) read: 497-1/362-1/589-1/152-1/527-d. In first-class matches in the last two years the average is 291.
Hosts too skinny again
England were [1.45] to level affairs with a game to play. Those who suffered down south are hiding behind the sofa at the thought of taking such a price.
It was child's play, then, to consider West Indies value at [5.30]. The proof that these two sides were well-matched was plain to see in West Indies' 2-1 win last year. England's lack of home support, a fragile batting line-up and a defeat in game one later...what more evidence do you need?
The collapse of their bowling group is of most significant. No Archer, Anderson or Wood gives West Indies a clear edge with the ball.
It is worth pointing out that West Indies have not won consecutive Tests away from home against a fellow Big Eight opponent since, deep breath, 1993 against Australia. Yet, as we said, these are not ordinary times. Yes, the Windies pacers are sore. But so are England.
The shrewd move would be to make like Stokes and keep the toss on side. The trend remains for sides struggling in the fourth and we're not about to start underestimating the importance of getting a score on the board.
Unusually for Manchester the forecast is good. There is - so far - only a shower or two is expected on Saturday. Conditions on day one are overcast.
Will Broad fire?
Root, who has a double on this ground, returns and goes straight back in as jolly for top England bat. Click here for my thoughts on his prominent position in the betting.
As usual 3/1 with Betfair Sportsbook is no way near big enough. Southampton winner Stokes and Ollie Pope may hold greater appeal at 4/1 and 5/1 respectively. For West Indies, Brathwaite notched in game one and replaces Shai Hope as favourite at 11/4. That is the right move.
Broad was 11/4 to come roaring back as top England wicket-taker in the first-innings but has now been cut to 5/2. Archer had been 5/2 joint favourite with James Anderson. Woakes is 10/3.
For more analysis and insight on the Second Test, check out the latest episode of Cricket...Only Bettor
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l
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Back West Indies batting first at [4.50] or better (2pts)