West Indies v England
Tuesday 7 March 14.00
TV: live on Sky Sports
Windies hard to call
West Indies have a proud and fierce record at home against England., They have lost only one home series in 50 years. And they gave a good account of themselves when the pair met in England during the pandemic in 2020.
Back then the Windies recorded a famous victory before sliding to a 2-1 reverse. Since they have failed to build on that promise.
There have been more false dawns. A surprise 2-0 success in Bangladesh against all the odds suggested they were a side to be taken seriously. Likewise draws against Sri Lanka and Pakistan at home.
However, they were horrible in a 2-0 loss in Sri Lanka. Perhaps it could be excused as alien conditions.
The balance of the possible XI is pretty good. The pace stock is strong and there are options to keep them fresh. Veersammy Permaul is a fascinating pick as their likely sole spinner.
Possible XI: Brathwaite, Campbell, Bonner, Mayers, Brooks, Blackwood, Holder, Da Silva, Roach, Seales, Permaul
England have left James Anderson and Stuart Broad at home. So the last thing they needed was injuries to pace bowlers. Ollie Robinson, their best and supposed new attack leader, is out.
Robinson has suffered a back spasm and was left out of the 12-man squad. From the names listed it is clear that Chris Woakes and Craig Overton will share the new ball with Mark Wood as shock bowler. Jack Leach is the spinner with Saqib Mahmood expected to be on drinks.
Alex Lees will open the batting with Zak Crawley and Joe Root looks likely to bat at No 3. His complaints about the role have fallen away after finding himself in so early in the last three years.
In their one warm-up, all of England's chosen batters enjoyed excellent crease time.
Probable XI: Crawley, Lees, Root, Stokes, Bairstow, Lawrence, Foakes, Woakes, Overton, Wood, Leach
The last two Test matches (both in March last year) at North Sound in Antigua have been draws. Judging by the early pictures of the surface the groundstaff don't look too keen on another.
It looks dry with potential to crumble. But our eyes could be wrong. Would both teams have picked only one spinner if that was true?
There has been something for the bowlers early on in both games but the way it flattened out is stark. Both stalemates came against Sri Lanka and in the third and fourth innings of the first game a wicket fell, on average, every 18 overs. In the second it was every 25.
As discussed in our series preview, both sides need a flat one. So it may have to be a wait and see approach for runs wagers.
Draw price of interest
With the above in mind it would be remiss not to point out the potential for the draw to trade at short odds. Currently it is 5.409/2. Three points could easily be lopped off.
The plan would be to back early doors and sit tight for around 3.4012/5, laying back with an extra 50% of the original stake.
Otherwise the match odds appear to have the favourite far too short. On what basis are a revamped England 2.1011/10? West Indies are prone to disaster but did you see the Ashes?
It's hard to reckon that the home team - who pack a punch with Jason Holder, Kemar Roach and Jaydon Seales with the ball - are not worth a gamble to give a good account at 2.809/5.
West Indies pair Kraigg Brathwaite, the skip, and Jermaine Blackwood share top spot for runs in the last three years for West Indies. But Kyle Mayers and Nkrumah Bonner have decent averages.
Brathwaite has been boosted to 10/3 for top first-innings bat for the Windies. Blackwood is 5s and Mayers and Bonner 10/3 and 7/2 respectively.
For England Sportsbook have also boosted Root to 9/5 from 6/4. Ben Stokes stands out at 5/1. There's little form for either to beat. Bet the Sportsbook markets here.