Ed Hawkins says the tourists can be taken on and hopes their toss luck will run out in Barbados from Wednesday...
"England haven’t really been tested enough in the fourth innings. Hell, they might pass but we’ll take the bet that they don’t"
West Indies v England
Wednesday 23 January 14:00
TV: live on Sky Sports
Home pace attack in good shape
The decline of West Indies Test cricket is well-documented. But only statistics can be stark enough to illustrate the dive: West Indies have won only three series (two against Bangladesh and New Zealand) since February 2009. The good news is that was the month they beat England one-nil in a five-match series. It seems like a bygone age.
Still, it is something for the hosts to cling to. As is the slight whiff of a revival with a strong pace attack in Shannon Gabriel, Jason Holder and Kemar Roach. Roston Chase and Jomel Warrican will hope to expose English deficiencies against spin.
Batting is an issue, though. They are high on talent but low on application. Which is why the selectors have tried to shoehorn some grit into the squad with the recall of Darren Bravo. Alongside Kraigg Brathwaite these two could take the shine off a Dukes ball.
And then, who knows? Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer are tremendously exciting strokemakers. And one hopes they're in it for the long haul rather than trying to impress for a T20 franchise contract.
England in rich form
England are buzzing. They have won eight of their last nine Tests, including the 3-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka before Christmas and a 4-1 success over India which has got better over time considering their win Down Under.
Of course they won the toss in seven of those matches and the suspicion remains that they would have found life much tougher had they been at the disadvantage of being told what to do.
Their confidence will be up. It will probably need to be because the batting line-up looks unconvincing. Keaton Jennings, for example, is likely to find this series a much tougher examination than that of the slow surfaces and spin-heavy attack in Sri Lanka.
There will be changes. England are not dumb enough to play three spinners like they did last time in Colombo. They might only play one with Moeen Ali in pole to pip Adil Rashid. James Anderson will return, too with two from Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran battling it out for seamer spots. Broad was running hot in the warm-ups so will likely get a recall.
There have been four Tests in the last five years at Bridgetown. The first-innings scores (1-2 denote match won by side batting first or second, most recent first) read: 204-2/312-1/257-2/293-1. These have not been run heavy, then. In the last Test in June West Indies had a first-innings lead of 50 after posting only 204, but were shot out for 93 against Sri Lanka. They lost by four wickets. Pakistan were blown away for 81 chasing 188 in 2017. And England lost with that 257 on the board two years earlier.
Tourists might be faking it
The respective formguides suggest this is a no-contest. West Indies have three wins in 13 against the established nations in the last two years. But that's okay because price is king and the hosts at [5.6] mean the ratio is in the favour of those who want to be bold.
We do, although with a caveat. We will get with West Indies here with a (hopefully) wearing fourth-innings wicket on their side. If Joe Root loses a toss for once we should still be able to get [4.0] about the Windies. England are [1.35], which is no fun at all. The draw is [11.50]
As we said, we like the home pace attack with Gabriel and Holder ripping up trees in the last few months. Their strike rates are bettered by very few as discussed in the series preview here.
The main reason for the punt, however, is that we have a hunch that it is getting harder in this franchise era for teams to knuckle down on even slightly wearing pitches in the fourth. And England haven't really been tested enough in that regard. Hell, they might pass but we'll take the bet that they don't.
Buttler a fancy
Root, despite a downturn, is still England's top man over the last 12 months and plenty will be involved at his price off 11/4 for top England first dig runscorer with Sportsbook. We're not a fan of the 4/1 about Keaton Jennings and if Root is going to be taken on there's nothing wrong with a nibble on Jos Buttler at 6s, who would probably have squeezed out Root at the top of the charts on the same number of games. Ben Foakes has to get a mention at 12s considering his form in Lanka.
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
Back West Indies batting first at [4.0] or better